Could Earth be swallowed by a black hole?

Is it possible for Earth to fall into a black hole? Should we be worried about our home planet disappearing any time soon?

Could Earth be swallowed by a black hole? Credit: Buradaki / Getty Images
Published: March 12, 2022 at 9:30 am
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A black hole is a region of space where matter has become so densely packed that its gravity will let nothing escape – including light.

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Time comes to a stop at its edge, and its centre may hide a point of infinitely small volume and infinite density, where all laws of physics break down.

Possessing the terrifying power to devour anything unlucky enough to pass within their grasp, it is little surprise that these cosmic chasms have become a staple of sci-fi since the term ‘black hole’ was coined in 1964.

In May 2022, astronomers revealed the first ever photograph of the black hole at the centre of our Galaxy.

Read our answers to some of the big questions about black holes.

Astronomers have captured the first ever image of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Galaxy. Credit: EHT Collaboration
The first ever image of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Galaxy. Credit: EHT Collaboration

Despite their abundance, there is no reason to panic: black holes will not devour Earth nor the Universe. It is incredibly unlikely that Earth would ever fall into a black hole.

This is because, at a distance, their gravitational pull is no more compelling than a star of the same mass.

If we were to replace the Sun with a black hole of the same mass, for example, Earth and the rest of the planets would continue orbiting in exactly the same way, because there would be no discernible change in the gravity acting on them.

As we know today, the planets orbit the Sun, not the other way round. Crdit: Mark Garlick / Science Photo Library
Replacing the Sun with a black hole of the same mass would not alter the orbits of the planets of the Solar System. Credit: Mark Garlick / Science Photo Library

If our Sun were replaced by a black hole, however, it would get very dark and cold in our Solar System.

The only way Earth could be swallowed by a black hole would be if our planet happened to stray across a wandering black hole’s event horizon.

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That's something that is not going to happen any time soon, and likely never will.

Authors

Ben Skuse is a science and astronomy writer.
Ben SkuseScience writer

Ben Skuse is a science and astronomy writer.

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