String theory has the potential to show that all of the wondrous happenings in the universe - from the frantic dance of subatomic quarks to the stately waltz of orbiting binary stars; from the primordial fireball of the big bang to the majestic swirl of heavenly galaxies - are reflections of one, grand physical principle, one master equation.
When you buy a jacket, you pick the size to ensure it fits. Similarly, we live in a universe in which the amount of dark energy fits our biological make-up. If the amount of dark energy were substantially different from what we've measured, the environmental conditions would be inhospitable to our form of life.
Black holes provide theoreticians with an important theoretical laboratory to test ideas. Conditions within a black hole are so extreme, that by analyzing aspects of black holes we see space and time in an exotic environment, one that has shed important, and sometimes perplexing, new light on their fundamental nature.
The central idea of string theory is quite straightforward. If you examine any piece of matter ever more finely, at first you'll find molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles. Probe the smaller particles, you'll find something else, a tiny vibrating filament of energy, a little tiny vibrating string.
Black holes, we all know, are these regions where if an object falls in, it can't get out, but the puzzle that many struggled with over the decades is, what happens to the information that an object contains when it falls into a black hole. Is it simply lost?