In Christopher Nolan’s epic 2014 science fiction film Interstellar, a rogue splinter group of scientists constituting the collapsed remnants of NASA hatch a plan to save Earth from environmental collapse by searching for potentially habitable planets in a distant galaxy. They get there by traveling through a wormhole and using the gravitational slingshot velocity of a massive black hole.
Though it’s been a recurring theme in science fiction for decades, a black hole itself has never been considered a feasible form of space travel because scientists have always believed that the mysterious tidal forces inside the event horizon would spaghettify and crush anything that dared to enter it.
But scientists now say new simulation models are suggesting that a rotating black hole, which contains a unique “mass inflation singularity,” may actually offer safe passage to another part of the galaxy—or a different galaxy altogether.
The team of physicists from UMass Dartmouth and Georgia Gwinnett College say their simulations show the singularity at the center of a large, rotating black hole could actually facilitate a “gentle” passage through rips in spacetime.
Physicist Gaurav Khanna, his colleague Lior Burko, and his student Caroline Mallary were inspired by the film Interstellar to test whether its central character named Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, could have theoretically survived a descent into the film’s fictional black hole, Gargantua.
Mallary built a computer simulation exploring the physics involved and concluded:
“The effects of the singularity in the context of a rotating black hole would result in rapidly increasing cycles of stretching and squeezing on the spacecraft. But for very large black holes like Gargantua, the strength of this effect would be very small. So, the spacecraft and any individuals on board would not detect it.”
Scientific speculation concerning exotic properties of black holes has increased in recent years. A 2016 study examined the possibility of five-dimensional black holes shaped like rings which violate the laws of physics, including Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Another paper posited that black holes deposit matter into the far future.
Realistically, we likely won’t know anything substantial about the logistics of traveling the stars via black holes within our lifetime. Humans are still trying to visit the nearest planet in our solar system and the nearest black hole, Sagittarius A*—which lurks 27,000 light years away at the center of the Milky Way—is not even remotely reachable without propulsion technologies that are decades, if not centuries, from implementation.
However, within our lifetime we may learn more about how quantum gravity works inside of black holes—buoyed by new advanced telescopes and research methods—which may tell us if it’s physically possible for hyperspace travel using black holes. And even though we can’t do it, perhaps others in the universe can.