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Spagettification: When An Object Comes Too Close To A Black Hole

By Steve Goldstein, Lauren Gilger
Published: Monday, October 19, 2020 - 12:22pm
Updated: Monday, October 19, 2020 - 1:28pm

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Spaghettification occurs when a body of matter becomes too close to a black hole and is then stretched apart by the black hole's tidal forces.

What do you know about “spaghettification?” It doesn't involve pasta or Play-Doh — it’s what happens when any body of matter gets too close to a black hole.

Astronomer Edo Berger with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics explained the rationale behind the term's name.

“It is called spaghettification because the tidal forces from the black hole essentially stretch any object that gets near it into a spaghetti shape," Berger said. "And so, essentially what happens to the star is it comes close in, and it gets stretched out and torn apart into these long strands that look like spaghetti.”

The star he is referring to was recently observed getting sucked — atom-by-atom — into a black hole 215 million light years away. As far away as that sounds, this is the closest example of a star getting spaghettified that astronomers have ever observed.

For a comparison, Berger also detailed the possible outcome of a human falling into a black hole.

“This will essentially completely tear apart the human body and produce the same effect of our entire body being torn up into long streams of material that was once incorporated into our organs and bones and skin being torn up into these very long strands of human spaghetti," Berger said.

Berger says events like this are important because black holes literally light up as they eat stars, and it gives researchers an opportunity to see how these bodies behave under extreme gravitational duress. 

Berger’s team made these observations from the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Amado, Arizona.

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