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If we were to discover black holes with nonspherical shapes, it would be a sign that our universe has more than three dimensions of space.

The cosmos seems to have a preference for things that are round. Planets and stars tend to be spheres because gravity pulls clouds of gas and dust toward the center of mass. The same holds for black holes — or, to be more precise, the event horizons of black holes — which must, according to theory, be spherically shaped in a universe with three dimensions of space and one of time.

But do the same restrictions apply if our universe has higher dimensions, as is sometimes postulated — dimensions we cannot see but whose effects are still palpable? In those settings, are other black hole shapes possible?

The answer to the latter question, mathematics tells us, is yes. Over the past two decades, researchers have found occasional exceptions to the rule that confines black holes to a spherical shape.

Now a new paper goes much further, showing in a sweeping mathematical proof that an infinite number of shapes are possible in dimensions five and above. The paper demonstrates that Albert Einstein’s equations of general relativity can produce a great variety of exotic-looking, higher-dimensional black holes.

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