An Experiment in Zurich Brings Us Nearer to a Black Hole’s Mysteries

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By Kenneth Chang

The equations that describe the universe at the smallest and largest scales — how the tiniest elementary particles dance, how the space-time of the cosmos bends — predicted a slight incongruity, a tiny unbalancing in the numbers of certain particles under certain circumstances.

But physicists have yet to observe this phenomenon, with the unwieldy name of mixed axial-gravitational anomaly, and confirm the prediction. The imbalance is negligible except when the warping of space-time is extreme — like next to a black hole or the moment after the Big Bang.

It turns out there was somewhere else to look, and it was much closer. An international team of scientists discovered this anomaly in a tabletop apparatus in Zurich examining the properties of a tiny metallic ribbon.

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