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Gravitational collapse is the contraction of an astronomical object due to the influence of its own gravity, which tends to draw matter inward toward the centre of gravity.[1] Gravitational collapse is a fundamental mechanism for structure formation in the universe. Over time an initial, relatively smooth distribution of matter will collapse to form pockets of higher density, typically creating a hierarchy of condensed structures such as clusters of galaxies, stellar groups, stars and planets.

A star is born through the gradual gravitational collapse of a cloud of interstellar matter. The compression caused by the collapse raises the temperature until thermonuclear fusion occurs at the center of the star, at which point the collapse gradually comes to a halt as the outward thermal pressure balances the gravitational forces. The star then exists in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Once all its energy sources are exhausted, a star will again collapse until it reaches a new equilibrium state.

Simulated view from outside black hole with thin accretion disc[5]

Once a body collapses to within its Schwarzschild radius it forms what is called a black hole, meaning a spacetime region from which not even light can escape. It follows from general relativity and the theorem of Once a body collapses to within its Schwarzschild radius it forms what is called a black hole, meaning a spacetime region from which not even light can escape. It follows from general relativity and the theorem of Roger Penrose[6] that the subsequent formation of some kind of singularity is inevitable. Nevertheless, according to Penrose's cosmic censorship hypothesis, the singularity will be confined within the event horizon bounding the black hole, so the spacetime region outside will still have a well-behaved geometry, with strong but finite curvature, that is expected[7] to evolve towards a rather simple form describable by the historic Schwarzschild metric in the spherical limit and by the more recently discovered Kerr metric if angular momentum is present.

On the other hand, the nature of the kind of singularity to be expected inside a black hole remains rather controversial. According to theories based on quantum mechanics, at a later stage, the collapsing object will reach the maximum possible energy density for a certain volume of space or the Planck density (as there is nothing that can stop it). This is the point at which it has been hypothesized that the known laws of gravity cease to be valid.[8][quantum mechanics, at a later stage, the collapsing object will reach the maximum possible energy density for a certain volume of space or the Planck density (as there is nothing that can stop it). This is the point at which it has been hypothesized that the known laws of gravity cease to be valid.[8][better source needed] There are competing theories as to what occurs at this point. For example loop quantum gravity predicts that a Planck star would form. Regardless, it is argued that gravitational collapse ceases at that stage and a singularity, therefore, does not form.

The radii of larger mass neutron stars (about 2.8 solar mass)[9] are estimated to be about 12 km, or approximately 2.0 times their equivalent Schwarzschild radius.

It might be thought that a sufficiently massive neutron star could exist within its Schwarzschild radius (1.0 SR) and appear like a black hole without having all the mass compressed to a singularity at the center; however, this is probably incorrect. Within the event horizon, the matter would have to move outward faster than the speed of l

It might be thought that a sufficiently massive neutron star could exist within its Schwarzschild radius (1.0 SR) and appear like a black hole without having all the mass compressed to a singularity at the center; however, this is probably incorrect. Within the event horizon, the matter would have to move outward faster than the speed of light in order to remain stable and avoid collapsing to the center. No physical force, therefore, can prevent a star smaller than 1.0 SR from collapsing to a singularity (at least within the currently accepted framework of general relativity; this does not hold for the Einstein–Yang-Mills–Dirac system). A model for the nonspherical collapse in general relativity with the emission of matter and gravitational waves has been presented.[10]