Without a doubt, black holes are the most fascinating physical entities in the universe. They are cosmic predators that wander through space, camouflaged and in the shadows. Since the existence of black holes was predicted more than a century ago, we have wondered what would happen if we managed to enter one. Would we live to tell? Would we travel to another region of the universe? Recent research suggests that the answer to both questions could be yes.
The science and other stuff to know
Caroline Mallary is a physicist at the University of Massachusetts, and in 2016, during her doctorate, she set out to answer the age-old question of what would happen if a manned spaceship entered a black hole. The inspiration came from the blockbuster film “Interstellar” by C. Nolan, which is based on the ideas of Nobel Prize-winning physicist and writer Kip Thorne.
According to the study published in the American Physical Society in 2018, Mallary built a computational model in which she created a black hole with the same characteristics as Gargantua, the one in the movie.
With 100 million solar masses and an unbridled rotation rate, the expert’s Gargantua indicated that it would allow an object to pass through its surroundings, even penetrating the event horizon—the region that separates the singularity from the space environment—without tearing or destroying it by complete.
According to her research, it would only be possible to safely enter a black hole that had these characteristics: enormous mass and high speed of rotation, since that would make the distortion effects less noticeable. That is, passing near or even entering a black hole like Gargantua could be analogous to passing a fingertip quickly over a flame: the heat cannot burn us, because it does not remain in contact with the dermal surface of the finger long enough.
Since it is not possible for our current technology to experiment with a real black hole—send probes into its vicinity, for example—because of the colossal distances that separate us from it, the only way for astrophysicists and physicists to get closer to a larger and deeper understanding of the exotic nature of these cosmic dementors are computer simulations.
Thanks to her model, Mallary and her colleagues discovered that in principle, it would be possible to enter the vicinity of the black hole without suffering instant death. This leaves a door ajar for further mathematical theorizing about the possibilities of fast travel to other regions of space-time.
Mallary’s model, however, considers a highly simplified Gargantua. Real black holes have hot, ionized gas and dust in their immediate vicinity; factors that were neglected in the researcher’s model.
Even so, these types of tools are still extremely useful since they constitute our only chance to get closer to understanding this fascinating cosmological phenomenon.
In the coming years, the models are expected to be further refined and perfected to give us accurate information about the fate of future interstellar voyages that dare navigate the gravitationally distorted shores of space-time.