Lab imitations of the unobservable cosmos can be genuinely insightful

Supermassive black hole. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.; Shutterstock ID 1756053335; purchase_order: -; job: -; client: -; other: -

Shutterstock/NASA images

ANALOGIES have always been helpful in our attempts to make sense of an enigmatic universe. Perhaps the best-known example is space-time, which is often likened to a malleable sheet underlying everything. Massive things like planets depress the sheet, such that less massive things – people, asteroids and so on – tend to fall inwards. It isn’t a perfect analogy, of course, but it allows those of us who can’t read the equations of general relativity to grasp the nature of reality.

In recent years, researchers have been using fluids and collections of cold atoms as space-time equivalents. These aren’t just verbal …

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