Unless you're very, very unlucky, you're never going to bump up against a black hole. But a new animation from NASA gives a spectacular, close-up look at a black hole forming from the collision of two neutron stars.
These aren't bumper cars. NASA says these collisions are among the most violent events in the universe.
The video was put together at the space agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., using a supercomputer simulation created by Germany's Albert Einstein Institute.
The animation runs about two minutes but shows an encounter that, in the real world, would happen in mere milliseconds. It opens with only 11 miles separating the neutron stars. As the stars spin around each other, they're ripped apart by the intense gravitational forces each exerts on the other.
Why so intense? Because neutron stars--the cores left behind when stars born with masses between eight and 30 times the mass of our sun explode as supernovas--pack a lot of gravitation-producing mass into a very small volume. One neutron star packs about 1.5 times the mass of the sun into a ball just 12 miles across, according to NASA, and a single cubic centimeter of neutron star matter outweighs Mount Everest.
Ultimately, the stars in the video coalesce to form the black hole. Good thing it's all in the virtual realm, because a real black hole generates so much gravitational pull that not even light can escape.