On Thursday night, Cartoon Network’s Regular Show featured an ending where Mordecai, Rigby, and their friends get sucked into a black hole, experience something called “spaghettification,” and are consumed at dinner by astronomer and popular scion celebrity Neil deGrasse Tyson.
It’s one hell of an episode. Modeled after the short story format of the “Treehouse of Horror Halloween series done on the The Simpsons, the sixth iteration of “Terror Tales of the Park on Regular Show” featured more science fiction and space than we usually see. We’re inundated by a parody of Alien*, featuring a xenomorph as a lousy roommate refueling at a haunted space gas station, and vampires who double as umpires (he’s a “vumpire!”).
The highlight of the episode, however, digs into the details behind theoretical physics. At some point, in between the Park crew’s trading off of scary stories, their ship begins to head for a black hole, and becomes unable to escape the massive gravitational pull of the ultra-dense, spacetime-annihilating collapsed star. The crew realizes they are about to become spaghettified: the vertical stretching and horizontal compression of objects as they enter a black hole.
The show, however, chooses to illustrate spaghettification the way you might first perceive it, with the crew transforming into spaghetti (except Pops, who becomes a meatball, because, well, duh) that ends up on Tyson’s dinner plate.
Tyson — who is the real life author of the book, “Death by Black Hole” — proceeds to explain to the crew that upon entering the black hole’s event horizon (the boundary of the black hole, where escape is impossible), “Your destiny was sealed by science!”
“This is just how the universe works,” he informs the crew. “Spaghettification is real. And delicious.”
He’s not wrong — at least about the first part. Spaghettification is known as the noodle effect, spaghettification results in a black hole turning everything it sucks up into long, thin versions of those objects.
It’s believed that if you theoretically tumbled into a black hole, gravity would work its dark magic on you. Not even light can escape a black hole as it enters the event horizon. Those forces are so powerful that whatever part of you is diving in first begins to move faster into the hole than the other parts of you — causing them to stretch out vertically. Furthermore, as you move in, the forces would also act on each side of you, and push the opposite way — the right side of you is pulled to the left, and the left side of you is pulled to the right. Thus, you become like a piece of gum being pulled out into two opposite ends.
It goes without saying that you’d never survive the process. Mortality, however, is not really a theme that Regular Show likes to explore — it’s written for kids after all! So a cute joke about spaghetti is what we’re left with.
However, there is one way the cartoon may have gotten away with illustrating real spaghettification with a less morbid ending. Some research has suggested objects and light might be able to escape a black hole through a wormhole at the center — a back door that goes back to the normal universe we know and love.
Furthermore, while an object might not be retrievable as the original thing it once was, it may still be able to escape a black hole as a version of itself: information. Last year, Stephen Hawking outlined a theory about how matter might be irrevocably lost to a black hole, but information might be transformed into a hologram that sits on the event horizon. Perhaps some of the holograms can be picked up by Hawking radiation (photons emitted from black holes due to quantum fluctuations), and thus come back to us.
But let’s be real, those two alternative endings would have been less compelling than watching Tyson eat the Park crew. Regular Show is certainly anything but regular.