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Imagine that you want to make something disappear—that unfortunate photograph of you in the sombrero, or the ill-advised iPhone video from your bachelor party, or that part of your seventh-grade diary describing your dream honeymoon with Kirk Cameron. Whatever it is, you want it gone.

You could shred it, but a motivated blackmailer could still piece it back together. You could burn it, but the laws of physics still promise that the information could be reassembled. So you decide to turn to the ultimate destruction: You launch that mortifying evidence right into a black hole and breathe a sigh of relief that now, finally, it is gone for good.

But is it really?

That question is at the heart of a problem that’s been called the black hole information paradox, and some theorists believe that it reveals a deep crack in the foundation of physics as we know it.

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