Unanswered question about black holes is: where does everything go?

Black holes are among the most mysterious objects in the universe. These cosmic behemoths exert a gravitational pull so strong that not even light can escape their grasp. But what exactly happens to matter when it falls into a black hole?

To understand where things go when they fall into a black hole, we first need to grasp the basics of what a black hole is. At its core, a black hole is a region of spacetime where gravity is so intense that it warps space and time itself. This gravitational monster is formed when a massive star collapses under its own gravity at the end of its life cycle.

The boundary surrounding a black hole is known as the event horizon. It’s the point beyond which nothing, not even light, can return. Once an object crosses this threshold, it is inevitably drawn toward the singularity, the infinitely dense core of the black hole.

As matter approaches the event horizon, it experiences extreme gravitational forces. This process, whimsically dubbed “spaghettification,” occurs because the gravitational pull is much stronger on the part of the object closer to the black hole than on the part farther away. This difference in force stretches the object into a long, thin shape, like a piece of spaghetti.

At the center of a black hole lies the singularity, where gravity is thought to be infinitely strong and density infinitely high.

Current physical theories cannot adequately describe conditions at the singularity, as our understanding of physics breaks down in these extreme conditions. General relativity predicts the existence of singularities, but the true nature of these points remains one of the greatest mysteries in astrophysics.

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What Happens Inside a Black Hole?

One of the most perplexing questions about black holes is what happens to the information about the matter that falls into them.

According to quantum mechanics, information about the state of particles should never be lost. However, once matter passes the event horizon, it seems to disappear from the observable universe, leading to the so-called “information paradox.”

In the 1970s, physicist Stephen Hawking proposed that black holes could emit radiation due to quantum effects near the event horizon. This radiation, known as Hawking radiation, suggests that black holes could eventually evaporate over incredibly long timescales. If this radiation indeed carries information, it might resolve the information paradox, but exactly how this works remains an open question.

General relativity predicts that the very center of a black hole contains a point where matter is crushed to infinite density. It’s the final destination for anything falling into the event horizon.

According to Kip Thorne (a famous physicist, worked on the interstellar), matter is destroyed at the singularity.

“The matter of which a star is made, the atoms of which a star is made, are destroyed at the center of a black hole, when the black hole is created. The matter is gone, but the mass, in the sense of mass and energy being equivalent, has gone into the warped space-time of the black hole,” he said.

While our current understanding of physics provides some insights into black holes, many aspects remain speculative, leading to several fascinating theories about what happens inside these cosmic bodies.

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The team that first imaged a black hole, at left, used AI to generate a sharper version of the image, at right, showing the black hole to be larger than originally thought. Medeiros et al 2023, CC BY-ND

Fantastic Theories: Beyond the Event Horizon

One intriguing possibility is that black holes could be connected to other points in space-time via wormholes. These hypothetical tunnels could, in theory, allow for instant travel across vast cosmic distances or even to other universes. If matter falling into a black hole enters a wormhole, it might emerge somewhere entirely different, escaping the black hole’s grip.

Another speculative theory suggests that black holes could be gateways to parallel universes. According to the multiverse hypothesis, our universe might be just one of many.

When matter falls into a black hole, it might be transported to a different universe within the multiverse, effectively disappearing from our observable reality but continuing to exist elsewhere.

In some advanced theoretical models, such as string theory and M-theory, our universe could be a three-dimensional “brane” floating in a higher-dimensional space.

Black holes might represent connections to these higher dimensions. If this is the case, matter falling into a black hole in our universe might be transferred to a different dimension entirely, offering a radical reimagining of the black hole’s nature.

While scientific advancements have provided some insights into what happens when matter falls into a black hole, many questions remain unanswered.

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