Dive into a supermassive black hole with this impressive NASA video

Dive into a supermassive black hole with this impressive NASA video
Dive into a supermassive black hole with this impressive NASA video

What would happen if an astronaut passed by a supermassive black hole like the one at the center of the Milky Way? Two scenarios are distinguished depending on the distance at which the unwary person approaches.

4.297 million solar masses: this is the weight of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole located at the center of the Milky Way and of which humanity obtained the first image in 2022. Such a monster attracts to itself the numerous stars including the trajectory brings them closer, some are accelerated, others completely swallowed.

But how would an astronaut experience this and what would he see when heading towards it?

First scenario: escape

To answer this question, Jeremy Schnittman, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, produced two immersive videos using the Discover supercomputer at NASA’s Climate Simulation Center. The machine worked for 5 days to produce them, but it would have taken more than 10 years of work for a conventional computer to obtain the same result.

Rather than illustrating an astronaut, the scientist decided to simulate a camera approaching a black hole of 4.3 million solar masses, similar to Sahgittarius A*, with the difference that this one is not not rotating. Both videos start when the camera is 640 million kilometers from the black hole and moves towards it and its horizon (the boundary beyond which no information is accessible) faster and faster, accelerated by the strong gravity which dominates these regions. In real time, the trip would take about three hours.

In a first video, the camera approaches the horizon which extends nearly 25 million kilometers, represented by a cloud of hot, incandescent gas, called an accretion disk. But it does not cross this limit, so that it can free itself from gravitational attraction.

If it were a manned ship returning to its starting point, a base or a larger ship, during this three-hour round trip, its occupants would return 36 minutes younger than their colleagues remained[…]

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