Spaghettification may sound like a new diet trend on how to get thin as spaghetti. Yet if this were true, the method to achieve this is the most extreme yet. Spaghettification is a term in astrophysics coined by Stephen Hawking in his book, A Brief History of Time; it is described as the vertical stretching and horizontal compression of objects into elongated and thinned shapes in a very strong non-homogeneous gravitational field. Basically, spaghettification is a process which turns you (a human) into spaghetti when the difference in the strength of the gravitational field from your head to your toe is very strong. This causes your body’s length to become stretched and to maintain the volume of your body (and ensure there is no net change in volume), the width of your body is compressed. Therefore, your head is pulled up, your feet are pulled downwards, your right side is pulled to your left and your left side is pulled to your right. Almost like a nightmare rollercoaster that leaves you in the shape of a spaghetti and ultimately, dead due to the extreme pressure that this process causes.
A visual of an astronaut undergoing spaghettification;
For spaghettification to occur, the difference in gravitational field strength needs to be quite noticeable . Spaghettification is most commonly known to occur in black holes, specifically after the event horizon. The event horizon is a point where an object cannot escape a black hole and ultimately, it is sucked into the black hole’s singularity (a point of infinite density at centre of a black hole). After this point, the gravity caused by the singularity in a black hole causing the gravitational gradient (difference in strength of the gravitational field) becomes noticeably different from head to toe. Because this process is not constant across the entire body, the force of gravity is unequal and therefore stretches the body. If it was equal across the body, there would be no observable spaghettification.
Luckily for us, humans have been immune to spaghettification, but this happens all the time to other objects in space. Every time that an object with mass is sucked into a black hole, this process occurs. Any object from a small asteroid to a star undergoes spaghettification on passing the black holes event horizon. Our solar system is only 1000 light-years away from the nearest black hole. So thankfully, we have a while before we have to imagine our Earth turning from a meatball into spaghetti.