Skip to Content

Why does time slow down near a black hole?

Black holes are one of the most fascinating and mysterious objects in our universe. As Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicted, black holes warp space and time to such an extreme degree that nothing, not even light, can escape their gravitational pull once it crosses the boundary known as the event horizon.

This extreme warping of space-time has some very bizarre consequences, one of which is the slowing down of time for objects approaching the black hole. In other words, time runs slower near a black hole compared to far away from it. This phenomenon is referred to as gravitational time dilation.

What causes time to slow down near a black hole?

The slowing down of time near a black hole is a direct result of the enormous gravitational field created by the black hole. Gravity, as described by general relativity, is a curvature or warping of space and time caused by mass. The more mass an object has, the more it distorts space-time around it.

Since black holes are incredibly dense concentrations of mass, they create a gravitational field that warps space-time to an extraordinary degree near them. This extreme curvature of space-time affects the flow of time experienced by objects close to the black hole compared to objects farther away.

Specifically, time passes slower in regions of stronger gravitational fields – i.e. near the black hole – than in regions of weaker gravity. This effect is more pronounced the closer you get to the black hole’s event horizon.

Gravitational time dilation formula

The slowing down of time due to gravity can be calculated using the gravitational time dilation formula from Einstein’s theory of general relativity:

Δt’ = Δt / √(1 – 2GM/rc^2)


  • Δt = Proper time between events for a distant observer
  • Δt’ = Proper time between events for an observer at radius r from a mass M
  • G = Gravitational constant
  • c = Speed of light in a vacuum
  • r = Radial coordinate of the observer (the radius from the center of the mass M)

This formula shows that the proper time interval Δt’ measured by the observer at radius r is dilated – i.e slowed down – compared to the proper time Δt measured by a distant observer. The slowing effect gets increasingly greater as you get closer to the mass M.

Gravitational time dilation near a black hole

To see how extreme time dilation can get near a black hole, let’s plug in some numbers as an example.

For a black hole with mass 5 times that of our Sun (5 solar masses = 9.95 × 1030 kg), and an object approaching to within 6 million km (r = 6,000,000 km) of the event horizon, the time dilation formula gives:

Δt’ = Δt / 42.97

This means time will pass over 42 times slower for the object at 6 million km compared to far away. For every 1 second that passes far away, only 0.024 seconds pass for the object near the black hole.

The effect becomes more extreme closer to the event horizon. At just 1.5 million km, the time dilation factor is 1200. For every second far away, only 0.00083 seconds pass nearby – time slows down by a factor of 1200!

These examples clearly illustrate the substantial slowing down of time experienced as you approach the intense gravitational field near a black hole’s event horizon.

Consequences of time dilation near black holes

The extreme time dilation near black holes has some very bizarre and intriguing consequences:

  • Slow motion falling – Due to gravitational time dilation, an object falling into a black hole would appear to be slowing down and reddening as it approaches the event horizon, according to a distant observer. This is because time slows down more and more from the distant observer’s perspective.
  • Spaghettification – Gravity near a black hole varies substantially from head to toe due to the steep gradient. This can cause vertical stretching and horizontal compression of infalling objects. From a distant viewpoint, this radial distortion would appear to happen slowly due to time dilation.
  • Frozen singularities – For outside observers, time dilation causes the formation of the singularity from a collapsing star to appear frozen in time at the event horizon, even though it occurs rapidly in a local frame.
  • Long black hole lifetimes – Similarly, the lifetime of the black hole also appears greatly extended for distant observers due to time dilation at the event horizon.

These bizarre effects highlight the truly perplexing aspects of black holes and just how severely the laws of physics are distorted in their vicinity.

Experimental verification

While it may seem counterintuitive, time dilation has been verified repeatedly through experimental observations and measurements.

Pound-Rebka experiment – In 1959, this experiment verified the effect of gravitational time dilation over a height change of just 22.5 meters by using gamma ray photons.

Hafele-Keating experiment – Clocks aboard circumnavigating aircraft in 1971 were found to lag slightly compared to reference clocks on the ground, in accordance with predictions of time dilation due to speed and gravity.

GP-A experiment – An atomic clock lowered to an altitude of 10,000 km aboard a spacecraft in 1976 slowed down as expected due to Earth’s gravity.

Lifetime muon experiment – Fast-moving muons created in the upper atmosphere can reach the Earth’s surface as their time is dilated allowing them to survive longer.

These and other experiments have thoroughly validated the predictions of Einstein’s general relativity regarding gravitational time dilation.

Black hole alternatives and time dilation

Several hypothetical alternatives to black holes have also been proposed, which aim to avoid the singularity at the center. How would time dilation work near such exotic objects?


In string theory, fuzzballs are a speculative alternative model for black holes. They avoid the singularity by having no defined ‘center’ – instead consisting of a tangled ball of strings.

Near such an object, gravitational time dilation would still occur due to the overall high mass concentration. However, the rate of time dilation would likely have more complex distance dependence due to the fuzzy, extended nature of the mass distribution.


A gravastar is another speculated black hole alternative, consisting of a thin shell of exotic matter surrounding a central vacuum void. This central void replaces the singularity.

Gravitational time dilation for objects near the thin shell surface would potentially be similar to that predicted near a black hole event horizon of equivalent overall mass.

Dark stars

Dark stars are hypothetical massive objects composed of some unknown type of stable dark matter. If dark stars of appropriate mass exist, they could mimic many properties of black holes.

Near such an object, gravitational time dilation would also occur just as for a black hole, with time progressively slowing in a similar distance-dependent manner.

In summary, while details depend on the theoretical model, extreme gravitational time dilation appears a robust prediction for any highly compact, massive object – whether a proven black hole or a more exotic entity.


In conclusion, the enormous gravitational field near black holes substantially warps the fabric of space-time in their vicinity. This results in the profound slowing down of time due to gravitational time dilation as predicted by Einstein’s relativity.

While counterintuitive, this effect has been repeatedly verified through experiments. The consequences are truly mind-boggling – infalling objects appearing to freeze and redden at the event horizon, while black hole lifetimes stretch out across eons.

Gravitational time dilation provides a glimpse into the depths to which our common notions of space and time break down in the domain of supermassive objects like black holes. It underscores the sheer strangeness and wonder of our universe’s workings.