# # Understanding Escape Velocity in Black Holes: Myths and Realities

Written on

## Chapter 1: The Question of Escape Velocity

What is the speed required to escape a black hole's grasp? A subscriber recently posed the question: “I came across information stating that the escape velocity for a black hole is equal to or exceeds the speed of light. Is that accurate? If I accelerate, can I break free from the event horizon?” This misconception about black holes is prevalent and warrants clarification. In essence, the escape velocity (often referred to as the second cosmic velocity) for a black hole is not greater than or equal to the speed of light.

The origins of this misunderstanding trace back to the 18th century when John Michell, an English physicist, observed that the escape velocity of a celestial object increases with its mass. He deduced that if a star were massive enough, its escape velocity could surpass the speed of light, preventing light from escaping it. Michell termed these massive stars "dark stars," laying the groundwork for the concept of black holes.

This notion emerged long before our current understanding of light and its speed. Michell imagined light as a stream of particles that could be emitted by stars, only to slow down and eventually fall back. While this idea is loosely connected to black holes, it leads to confusion. When applying Newtonian gravity to calculate the radius at which escape velocity equals the speed of light, one finds that this radius corresponds to the Schwarzschild radius.

Many educators have used this straightforward example, inadvertently contributing to the misconception that a black hole's escape velocity equals the speed of light. However, it is crucial to note that Newton’s gravitational law does not hold true in the vicinity of a black hole, and the Schwarzschild radius is not inherently linked to escape velocity.

### Section 1.1: The Perception of Falling into a Black Hole

Consider a spacecraft descending into a black hole from the viewpoint of an observer situated far away. Massive objects warp the fabric of space-time. As the spacecraft nears the black hole, it enters a region of distorted space-time, causing its time to diverge increasingly from that of an observer at a distance.

From the distant observer’s perspective, the spacecraft appears to slow down, and the journey into the black hole stretches from moments into hours, days, and even eons. Conversely, for those aboard the spacecraft, the entire descent to the event horizon might transpire in mere minutes or seconds.

This phenomenon of time dilation, viewed from afar, implies that the light cone of the spacecraft, as it nears the event horizon, diverges from the observer’s light cone. A light cone represents all possible points in four-dimensional space-time that light emitted from an object can reach.

### Section 1.2: The Nature of Light Cones near a Black Hole

In regions of significant space-time curvature, such as near a black hole's event horizon, the light cone becomes "tilted" due to changes in the paths light can take in this warped environment.

At the event horizon, the light cone makes contact with the horizon, resulting in the entirety of the future light cone lying within the event horizon. Inside this region, the light cone flips direction! This means that all potential paths beyond the event horizon lead directly to the singularity.

This reveals that the singularity is not merely a point in space but a point in time! Consequently, once one crosses the event horizon, the concept of escape velocity becomes irrelevant.

For instance, on Earth, the escape velocity is approximately 11.2 km/s. If a ball is thrown at this speed, it will successfully leave Earth's surface. However, one cannot throw a ball backward in time, regardless of its speed. To escape a black hole's event horizon, one would need the ability to move through time itself. Thus, the notion of escape velocity does not apply to black holes.

## Chapter 2: Delving Deeper into Black Holes

In this video, we explore the concept of escape speed and black holes, clarifying the common misconceptions surrounding these mysterious cosmic phenomena.

This video addresses the question of black hole escape velocity, offering insights into the science behind these fascinating entities.

Feel free to clap if you wish to see more articles about space in your feed! Don't forget to subscribe to our channel and pose your questions, which I will address in future articles. If you appreciate my work, consider supporting me by becoming a Medium member for just $5 per month, which will help us produce even better content.