The ancients thought that space and time were preexisting entities on which motion happens. Of course, this is also our naive intuition. According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, we know that this is not true. Space and time are dynamical objects whose shape is modified by the bodies that move in it. The ordinary force of gravity is due to this deformation of spacetime. Spacetime is a physical entity that affects the motion of particles and, in turn, is affected by the motion of the same particles. For example, the Earth deforms spacetime in such a way that clocks at different altitudes run at different rates. For the Earth, this is a very small (but measurable) effect. For a very massive and very compact object the deformation (or warping) of spacetime can have a big effect. For example, on the surface of a neutron star a clock runs slower, at 70 percent of the speed of a clock far away.
In fact, you can have an object that is so massive that time comes to a complete standstill. These are black holes. General relativity predicts that an object that is very massive and sufficiently compact will collapse into a black hole. A black hole is such a surprising prediction of general relativity that it took many years to be properly recognized as a prediction. Einstein himself thought it was not a true prediction, but a mathematical oversimplification. We now know that they are clear predictions of the theory. Furthermore, there are some objects in the sky that are probably black holes.
Black holes are big holes in spacetime. They have a surface that is called a “horizon.” It is a surface that marks a point of no return. A person who crosses it will never be able to come back out. However, he will not feel anything special when he crosses the horizon. Only a while later will he feel very uncomfortable when he is crushed into a “singularity,” a region with very high gravitational fields. The horizon is what makes black holes “black”; nothing can escape from the horizon, not even light. Fortunately, if you stay outside the horizon, nothing bad happens to you. The singularity remains hidden behind the horizon.READ MORE>