From the February 2007 issue

What would happen if you fell into a black hole?

Zachary Hanks, Spanish Fork, Utah
By | Published: February 1, 2007

Conditions near a black hole’s event horizon depend on the black hole’s mass. A person approaching a black hole would experience tidal forces — effects that arise due to objects not experiencing the gravitational force uniformly. Because gravity attracts parts closer to the hole more strongly, a traveler’s head would feel a different pull than his feet.

Anyone venturing near a stellar-mass black hole would be torn apart by tidal forces. A person encountering a supermassive black hole (hundreds of thousands to tens of billions times the Sun’s mass) could survive for many hours.

Eventually, however, as the person approaches the black hole’s center, tidal forces become strong enough to tear the person apart. — Mario Livio, Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore