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It’s one of life’s minor irritants, but it could explain why we’re here. Next time the cable for your headphones ends up in a tangled mess, take a closer look before straightening it out – knottiness might explain the early expansion of the universe, along with why we live in three dimensions.

The universe is thought to have expanded rapidly just a fraction of a second after the big bang, undergoing a period of what physicists call inflation. The process helped generate the cosmic structure we see today.

Or so the theory goes. It’s still not clear what could provide enough energy to drive inflation, and what had seemed the best evidence for this expansion, results from the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole, turned out earlier this year to be inconclusive.

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