Black Holes As Theorized By Stephen Hawking — A Beginner’s Guide

Stephen Hawking famously discovered how black holes can emit radiation as opposed to simply gorging on matter and light sending everything inside the event horizon — the border where light can escape and where light cannot escape — to a singularity, that is, an infinitely small point at the center which condenses matter to phases beyond that which physicists can explain. However, today, Stephen Hawking has announced that not only can black holes emit radiation, they can also send information into parallel dimensions which consist of an infinite number of alternate realities.

This is an artists conception (based on scientific observation) of the Milky Way, where our solar system orbits around a super-massive black hole.

Lost? You might have seen the reboot of Star Trek (2009) in which “red matter” can be used as a weapon, creating a black hole singularity which eats planets and star ships alike. This fear of black holes has existed ever since they were made popular in the film The Black Hole (1979) which was inspired by Hawking’s theories, popularizing the notion of black holes as mysterious monsters of deep space that devour — and apparently cause psychedelic experiences to — anything within their gravitational influence.

This picture is a screenshot of Star Trek (2009) depicting the result of "red matter" creating a singularity (black hole) which defeats Nero, the Romulan nemesis of James T. Kirk.

Below are five facts about black holes for those of us who want a less science fiction description, but who are not ready to enter into a doctorate program as physicists.

1. Black holes will “spaghettifi” you. Gravity, though poorly understood even by physicists, has the very observable effect of pulling on mass; the closer the mass is of the smaller body to the larger body, the more gravity pulls. The pull of a black hole is so strong that if you enter it feet first, the gravity pulling on your feet will pull infinitely stronger on your feet than on your head, so if you were watching your feet, it would seem as if your head has stayed in one place, while your feet have traveled — like rubber feet — down a plughole. Factor in time dilation and your body becomes a very thin string stretching more and more as it is pulled toward and past the event horizon.

Spaghettification occurs when you fall into a black hole and your body is stretched by the powerful gravity.

2. Black holes spit out matter at near the speed of light. This means that while some of you might make it into the black hole, part of you will be transformed into superheated plasma gas and ejected out of the black hole at such a speed that just one gram of your matter would be enough to destroy an entire planet. We know this because of Einstein’s famous discovery of Relativity. Speed is essentially equal to mass, so let’s say just the atoms making up your pinky fingernail are moving at the speed of light. That makes your pinky nail so massive that it could destroy a planet the size of Earth. We know this because as mass travels nearer the speed of light, its mass becomes infinite. So, if you like the idea of being superheated to temperatures of the sun’s interior and hurtled through space at light speed, by all means, take your next vacation at a black hole event horizon.

This image shows the jets of matter which are ejected at the North and South Poles of a black hole which are ejected at near the speed of light.

3. Black holes break physics. This is because their gravity is so powerful that nothing, not even light, can escape (at least not back from the way it came). It is believed that the Big Bang might have been a singularity existing in another dimension and that all the matter in our universe is the ejection of matter feasted on from one universe and spat out into another entirely newly created reality with its own rules and physics. Physics as we know, of course, is only the physics of our particular universe. Other universes are likely to have other rules. For example, in an alternative universe, maybe gravity pushes instead of pulls or any other number of rules we can only imagine in our science fiction imagination.

Physics as we know it breaks down when gravity folds the universe creating a short cut between millions of light years and perhaps even between dimensions.

4. A supermassive black hole lies at the center of every galaxy. A supermassive black hole is different than a stellar black hole in that’s is mass is up to a billion times greater. This fact was not known until recently when telescopes were able to peer past all the dust between ourselves and the center of our own milky way due to observing ultra violet radiation which moves through all the space dust. In fact, there is something fantastic happening right now that is being observed in real time by astronomers: our black hole is feeding. It has been doing so for three years when it awoke due to matter moving close enough to be consumed. Below is a picture which shows this real time feeding (and matter ejection) over the last four years.

In this four year time series, we can see super heated plasma gas moving toward the black hole getting partially consumed and partially ejected by the Sagittarius A Black Hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.

5. Black holes transport matter to alternate realities. This is the most recent press release by Stephen Hawking and apparently gives us some hope that if we do manage to survive our entrance into a black hole and not become energized radiation propelled at near light speed, then there might be hope of exiting the other side into an alternate reality. However, considering that the Big Bang was theorized to be just that, the particles that once made up your body might become a universe in itself, and that, in a sense would make you a God, as everything that would be, would be of you. Perhaps you might even be conscious enough to one day observe life forming out of your transformed atoms. This is, of course, highly theoretical, but isn’t that why we like science so much, that it gives our imagination room to imagine virtually anything?

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Parallels, the Enterprise encounters a universe of infinite Enterprises all with different realities.

[Image credit via Dave J Hogan/Getty Images, NASA, Author’s Appropriation, Shutterstock, Wikia and Star Trek (2009) promo share]