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SYFY WIRE Black Holes

Watch your step! Astrophysicist details the agony of falling into a swirling black hole

By Jeff Spry
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There are any number of ways to perish from our mortal plane that might have particularly unpleasant sensations and ramifications, but plummeting into the angry maw of a light-swallowing supermassive black hole would have to top our list.

To help aid those of limited imaginations or unbridled fears of falling anywhere at anytime, noted astrophysicist and author Janna Levin of Barnard College in England has captured what this existence-ending nightmare might be like in her new book, Black Hole Survival Guide, which was recently reviewed in the BBC‘s Science Focus magazine and showcased an extended excerpt.

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In her poetic extrapolation of being engulfed in the greatest destructive force in the universe, Levin delivers a detailed account of the event as the black hole's gravitational tug pulls you into its dark embrace.

The enigmatic journey begins as one crosses over the threshold of the black hole at a region called the event horizon, then pauses for a brief instant to peer out at the distorted acceleration of stars before you're sucked down toward the tunnel's singularity.

Here's the harrowing account. Ready to jump? Take my hand. Wait, you go first!

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Levin proceeds by articulating the fall toward the black hole's singularity, where time and space-twisting forces wreak havoc on your poor physical self.

"The part of your body closest to the singularity is accelerated drastically faster than the part of your body farthest from the singularity, stretching you miserably," she writes. "Simultaneously, your overall anatomy is forced to converge toward that point, crushing you. In a microsecond, less time than it would take to blink your eye, you are simultaneously flayed, shredded, and pulverised to death."

After that spin in the cosmic Cuisinart, where organic matter is battered, bruised, stripped, and exploded into its basic compounds, those essential elements are ejected into the spacetime slice where they suddenly discover non-living silence. 

"The rip leads to nowhere," Levin continues. "The singularity is an end to space and time, an end to existence. There’s no future ahead once a thing gets crushed and pushed through the singularity. Death by singularity is the paramount existential death — the death of your fundamental particles, the removal from reality of you and your constituent stuff. Actual nonexistence."

However, Levin adds that this depressing odyssey might have myriad outcomes and is certainly open to further discussion and interpretation.

"Singularities, as they involve malefic infinities, deserve to be treated with great suspicion," she notes. "They are such an anathema to the entire paradigm of the scientific pursuit of reality that essentially all physicists suspect general relativity ceases to be the complete physical description of gravity at such dramatic scales, the singular core a false prophecy."

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While theorizing on exactly what might happen if you ever plopped into a black hole, never to be seen again, is still pure speculation, this vivid description provides a plausible deconstruction of an adventure into certain oblivion. 

Janna Levin's Black Hole Survival Guide was released Nov. 10 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.