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Tue May 31 12:03:40 SAST 2016

Einstein's gravitational waves seen

AFP | 12 February, 2016 01:05
"Up until now we have been deaf to gravitational waves, but today, we are able to hear them," said David Reitze, executive director of the Ligo Laboratory. File photo
Image by: HANDOUT / LIGO Laboratory

In a landmark discovery for physics and astronomy, scientists said yesterday they had glimpsed the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time that Albert Einstein predicted a century ago.

When two black holes collided some 1.3 billion years ago, the joining of those two great masses sent forth a wobble that hurtled through space and reached Earth on September 14 2015, when it was picked up by sophisticated instruments, researchers announced.

"Up until now we have been deaf to gravitational waves, but today, we are able to hear them," said David Reitze, executive director of the Ligo Laboratory.

Reitze compared the magnitude of the discovery to Galileo's use of the telescope four centuries ago.

"I think we are doing something equally important here today. I think we are opening a window on the universe," Reitze said.

The phenomenon was observed by two US-based underground detectors, designed to pick up tiny vibrations from passing gravitational waves, a project known as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or Ligo.

It took scientists months to verify the data before announcing it, marking the culmination of decades of efforts by teams around the world including some 1000 scientists from 16 countries, the National Science Foundation, which funded the research, said.

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