I remember the lecture in which my college physics teacher went over the equations describing what happens at the event horizon of a black hole. All I truly recall is the tenor of the lecture, and its effect on me. The figurings have faded, and what comes to mind now is the furious transit of chalkboards, the blinking of slides, and a growing sense of disquiet. It seemed as if the equations themselves were stretching somehow, pulled into filaments at the edge of what could be imagined, much less known.
We turn to imagery to help us bend our minds around black holes. Here’s a video from a New Scientist post about a black hole simulator, offering an interpretation of the gravitational lensing that is one of the better-known effects of black holes:
But any such animation is a fragmentary view, a theoretical perspective, a peculiar, one-dimensional take on the phenomenon as a whole. Another animation, from NASA, imagines the effect of a black hole on a large mass orbiting nearby:
From the first theoretical black hole hypothesized by Einstein, physicists have elaborated a diverse ecology of black holes, from collapsed stellar bodies that exert influence in their neighborhood, to the putative microscopic black holes that might be (but haven’t yet been) spawned in the Large Hadron Collider.
What do we do when faced with such a riot of tremulous possibility? We make up stories! Beyond the event horizon in the 1979 Disney movie The Black Hole, we get mind-bending physics, heaven and hell, and a robot apotheosis:
An even more efficient handling of the mysteries of black holes can be found in this advertisement for action figures from the same movie:
The event horizon as trash can: all clear, captain!