As it buckles under its own weight and collapses inward, space-time caves in with it.
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The gravitational field becomes so strong that not even light can escape, rendering the region where the star used to be profoundly dark: a black hole. The outermost boundary of the hole is its event horizon, the point at which the gravitational force precisely counteracts the light's efforts to escape it. Go closer than this, and there's no escape. The event horizon is ablaze with energy. Quantum effects at the edge create streams of hot particles that radiate back out into the universe.
This is called Hawking radiation, after the physicist Stephen Hawking, who predicted it. Given enough time, the black hole will radiate away its mass, and vanish.
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As you go deeper into the black hole, space becomes ever more curvy until, at the centre, it becomes infinitely curved. This is the singularity. Space and time cease to be meaningful ideas, and the laws of physics as we know them — all of which require space and time — no longer apply. What happens here, no one knows. Another universe? The back of a bookcase? It's a mystery. So what happens if you accidentally fall into one of these cosmic aberrations? Let's start by asking your space companion — we'll call her Anne — who watches in horror as you plunge toward the black hole, while she remains safely outside.
From where she's floating, things are about to get weird. As you accelerate toward the event horizon, Anne sees you stretch and contort, as if she were viewing you through a giant magnifying glass.
What's more, the closer you get to the horizon the more you appear to move in slow motion. You can't shout to her, as there's no air in space, but you might try flashing her a Morse message with the light on your iPhone there's an app for that.
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When you reach the horizon, Anne sees you freeze, like someone has hit the pause button. You remain plastered there, motionless, stretched across the surface of the horizon as a growing heat begins to engulf you. According to Anne, you are slowly obliterated by the stretching of space, the stopping of time and the fires of Hawking radiation. Before you ever cross over into the black hole's darkness, you're reduced to ash. But before we plan your funeral, let's forget about Anne and view this gruesome scene from your point of view.
Now, something even stranger happens: nothing.
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You sail straight into nature's most ominous destination without so much as a bump or a jiggle — and certainly no stretching, slowing or scalding radiation. That's because you're in freefall, and therefore you feel no gravity: something Einstein called his "happiest thought". After all, the event horizon is not like a brick wall floating in space.
The strange fate of a person falling into a black hole
It's an artefact of perspective. An observer who remains outside the black hole can't see through it, but that's not your problem.
As far as you're concerned there is no horizon. Sure, if the black hole were smaller you'd have a problem. The force of gravity would be much stronger at your feet than at your head, stretching you out like a piece of spaghetti. But lucky for you this is a big one, millions of times more massive than our Sun, so the forces that might spaghettify you are feeble enough to be ignored.
In fact, in a big enough black hole, you could live out the rest of your life pretty normally before dying at the singularity. How normal could it really be, you might wonder, given that you're being sucked toward a rupture in the space-time continuum, pulled along against your will, unable to head back the other way? But when you think about it, we all know that feeling, not from our experience with space but with time.
Time only goes forwards, never backwards, and it pulls us along against our will , preventing us from turning around.
This isn't just an analogy. Black holes warp space and time to such an extreme that inside the black hole's horizon, space and time actually swap roles. In a sense, it really is time that pulls you in toward the singularity. You can't turn around and escape the black hole, any more than you can turn around and travel back to the past.
At this point you might want to stop and ask yourself a pressing question: What the hell is wrong with Anne? If you're chilling inside the black hole, surrounded by nothing weirder than empty space, why is she insisting that you've been burned to a crisp by radiation outside the horizon? Is she hallucinating? Skip to content Skip to search. Cioran, E. Emile M. Published Chicago : Quadrangle Books, Language English View all editions Prev Next edition 1 of 4. Uniform Title Chute dans le temps.
Author Cioran, E. Notes Translation of La chute dans le temps. View online Borrow Buy Freely available Show 0 more links Set up My libraries How do I set up "My libraries"? Eddie Koiki Mabo Library.
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