**Don, Does this help?**

What would happen to me if I fell into a black hole?

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Let's suppose that you get into your spaceship and point it straight towards the million-solar-mass black hole in the center of our galaxy. (Actually, there's some debate about whether our galaxy contains a central black hole, but let's assume it does for the moment.) Starting from a long way away from the black hole, you just turn off your rockets and coast in. What happens?

At first, you don't feel any gravitational forces at all. Since you're in free fall, every part of your body and your spaceship is being pulled in the same way, and so you feel weightless. (This is exactly the same thing that happens to astronauts in Earth orbit: even though both astronauts and space shuttle are being pulled by the Earth's gravity, they don't feel any gravitational force because everything is being pulled in exactly the same way.) As you get closer and closer to the center of the hole, though, you start to feel "tidal" gravitational forces. Imagine that your feet are closer to the center than your head. The gravitational pull gets stronger as you get closer to the center of the hole, so your feet feel a stronger pull than your head does. As a result you feel "stretched." (This force is called a tidal force because it is exactly like the forces that cause tides on earth.) These tidal forces get more and more intense as you get closer to the center, and eventually they will rip you apart.

For a very large black hole like the one you're falling into, the tidal forces are not really noticeable until you get within about 600,000 kilometers of the center. Note that this is after you've crossed the horizon. If you were falling into a smaller black hole, say one that weighed as much as the Sun, tidal forces would start to make you quite uncomfortable when you were about 6000 kilometers away from the center, and you would have been torn apart by them long before you crossed the horizon. (That's why we decided to let you jump into a big black hole instead of a small one: we wanted you to survive at least until you got inside.)

What do you see as you are falling in? Surprisingly, you don't necessarily see anything particularly interesting. Images of faraway objects may be distorted in strange ways, since the black hole's gravity bends light, but that's about it. In particular, nothing special happens at the moment when you cross the horizon. Even after you've crossed the horizon, you can still see things on the outside: after all, the light from the things on the outside can still reach you. No one on the outside can see you, of course, since the light from you can't escape past the horizon.

How long does the whole process take? Well, of course, it depends on how far away you start from. Let's say you start at rest from a point whose distance from the singularity is ten times the black hole's radius. Then for a million-solar-mass black hole, it takes you about 8 minutes to reach the horizon. Once you've gotten that far, it takes you only another seven seconds to hit the singularity. By the way, this time scales with the size of the black hole, so if you'd jumped into a smaller black hole, your time of death would be that much sooner.

Once you've crossed the horizon, in your remaining seven seconds, you might panic and start to fire your rockets in a desperate attempt to avoid the singularity. Unfortunately, it's hopeless, since the singularity lies in your future, and there's no way to avoid your future. In fact, the harder you fire your rockets, the sooner you hit the singularity. It's best just to sit back and enjoy the ride.