BLACK HOLES: Falling In: The Pulse of the Planet daily radio program offers free legal online mp3 downloads, exploring the world of sound in nature, culture and science, with audio adventures, world music, extraordinary sound portraits, science diaries, and nature ring-tones; an amazing sonic experience.

Airdate: Dec 12, 1997
Scientist: Neil DeGrasse Tyson


Watch your step! Today we’ll hear what happens if you step in a black hole...

You've probably heard of black holes, those places in space where the gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape from them. And perhaps you've wondered what would happen if you fell into a black hole. For the answer, stay tuned. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

"First let me preface this by saying you want to avoid this if you can. But if you can't you might as well enjoy the ride because some very interesting things will happen."

Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson is Director of New York's Hayden Planetarium. Apparently, he gets asked this question quite a bit.

"As you near the black hole, what you will notice is that the difference in gravity between the top of your head and the bottom of your feet, assuming it's a feet first dive, will begin to grow."

Now, even on Earth, there's a slight difference in gravity between your head and feet, but we don't notice it because it's so small. But as you get closer to a black hole, that difference would be amplified considerably.

"So you'll start feeling a little bit stretched. Eventually, that difference in gravity will be so large, that it will exceed the forces that keep the cells of your body connected to each other. When that happens, you'll snap into two pieces."

And each of these pieces will continue to stretch and to snap into more pieces, over and over again.

"Because the center of a black hole is very small, you will actually be funneled through the structure of space. So that, while you're being snapped into segments, you're being squeezed in much the same way that toothpaste is squeezed through the opening of the tube. Eventually, you will just head towards the black hole as a long string of atoms."

In case you're wondering, the nearest black hole is thousands of light-years away from Earth. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I'm Jim Metzner.