Here’s a joke for astronomy buffs: what’s a black hole’s favorite meal? Spaghettification!
Of course, the joke only makes sense if you know what spaghettification means. This A Moment of Science explains that punchline.
Let’s start with a black hole, a round region of space where gravity is incredibly strong. It’s strongest at the black hole’s event horizon, the boundary from which nothing escapes, even light. The gravity drops farther away from the black hole, just as it does around any star or planet. But for a black hole, this drop is so abrupt that the gravity differs drastically between two points only a yard apart.
Such intense gravitational pull means a black hole is always hungry! And if you’re an astronaut who wanders too close, you’re on the menu. You’ll quickly become a long, narrow stream of subatomic particles, slurped into the black hole’s insatiable gravity. The resemblance to a popular pasta gives the process its name: spaghettification, sometimes called “the noodle effect.” This happens because the gravity at your feet is much stronger than the gravity at your head. You’re stretched longer, and longer, and as your feet get farther, and farther away from your cranium, spaghettification only accelerates.But your body isn’t so elastic that you can stretch like pasta dough. Instead, things get gruesome: you’ll break in two at the base of your spine. And then your two halves break again, and then again, and so forth. Eventually, you’re not so much a solid noodle as you are a ribbon of individual particles. Like a river of sand, your particles funnel down into the black hole, becoming just another cosmic lunch.