NGC 1277's Supermassive Black Hole

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NGC 1277's Supermassive Black Hole

This illustration shows a galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its core. (The black hole is also shooting out radio waves.)

Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

How better to top off the ultimate space-time sightseeing trip than with a slow plunge into a realm where time and space get tied into the physics equivalent of balloon animals?

We're referring, of course, to a black hole -- a supermassive one. Go big or go home, right? Sure, but there's a better reason: In a smaller black hole, your trip would zip by in an eyeblink; even assuming you could survive its steeper 1-million-G taffy-pull of tidal forces, you would hit the singularity just 0.0001 seconds after flashing across the event horizon. Conversely, in supermassive black holes, the event horizon's gravity "slope" is much gentler -- less than one Earth gravity -- and the trip lasts entire seconds. So welcome to the most monstrous black hole yet found, the 17-billion-solar-mass monster that dominates the galaxy NGC 1277 [sources: Crockett; Hamilton].

As you fall on your slow curve, the starfield takes on the colorful whorls of soap bubbles. Space-time tricks your binocular vision, twisting and jumbling light. Finally, just before known physics takes a permanent powder, the universe crushes down into a halo of blue light, bookended above and below by spectral redshifts [source: Hamilton].

After that, who knows? You're in a ship that defies physics, in a region of space that breaks its laws. Anything is possible, so bring a clean change of underwear and, wherever you end up, start your own list of places to see. We're counting on you.

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