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Kip Thorne looks into the black hole he helped create and thinks, “Why, of course. That's what it would do.” ¶ This particular black hole is a simulation of unprecedented accuracy. It appears to spin at nearly the speed of light, dragging bits of the universe along with it. (That's gravity for you; relativity is superweird.) In theory it was once a star, but instead of fading or exploding, it collapsed like a failed soufflé into a tiny point of inescapable singularity. A glowing ring orbiting the spheroidal maelstrom seems to curve over the top and below the bottom simultaneously.

All this is only natural, because weird things happen near black holes. For example, their gravity is so strong that they bend the fabric of the universe. Einstein explained this: The more massive something is, the more gravity it produces. Objects like stars and black holes do this so powerfully that they actually bend light and pull space and time with it. And it gets weirder: If you were closer to a black hole than I was, our perceptions of space and time would diverge. Relatively speaking, time would seem to be going faster for me.

What does Thorne see in there? He's an astrophysicist; his math guided the creation of this mesmerizing visual effect, the most accurate simulation ever of what a black hole would look like. It's the product of a year of work by 30 people and thousands of computers. And alongside a small galaxy of Hollywood stars—Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow—the simulation plays a central role in Interstellar, the prestige space travel epic directed by Christopher Nolan opening November 7. Thorne sees truth. Nolan, the consummate image maker, sees beauty. Black holes, even fictional ones, can warp perception.

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