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Einstein Was Right: Colliding Black Holes ‘Heard’ Through Gravitational Waves

(CN) - Scientists said Thursday they had observed one of physics' most significant discoveries: tangible proof of Albert Einstein's 1915 theory of gravitational waves rippling the fabric of space and time.

A faint chirp was detected on Sept. 14, 2015, which scientists say are a result of two black holes colliding and forming a single, massive spinning black hole. The collision occurred roughly 1.3 billion years ago, with gravitational waves being the "sound" of the collision.

The gravitational waves were discovered by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, which has detectors in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington.

"Our observation of gravitational waves accomplishes an ambitious goal set over five decades ago to directly detect this elusive phenomenon and better understand the universe," David H. Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory, said at a press conference.

The discovery was made during the 100th anniversary of Einstein's general theory of relativity, which predicted the relationship between time and space and has had far-reaching impacts on the field of physics and science in general.

"It's the first time the universe has spoken to us through gravitational waves," Reitze said. "This is remarkable; up until now we've been deaf."

The discovery came before the detectors were fully operational, as LIGO was still in its testing phase.

Following the detection, scientists used telescopes and other conventional means to verify their revelation.

The project was supported by significant human and financial capital, as over 1,000 scientists from 15 different nations worked together and over $1 billion was spent to create LIGO.

Prominent scientists celebrated the discovery, noting its significance and the potential for further research.

"It's really comparable only to Galileo taking up the telescope and looking at the planets," Penn State physics theorist Abhay Ashtekar, who wasn't a part of the discovery team, told the Associated Press.

World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking also congratulated the LIGO team.

"Gravitational waves provide a completely new way of looking at the universe. The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionize astronomy," Hawking said.

Hawking also described some of the research opportunities LIGO presents.

"We may even see relics of the very early universe, during the Big Bang, and the most extreme energies possible," Hawking said. "I am sure the LIGO team is going to keep us busy with many further surprises."

LIGO is jointly operated by Caltech and MIT.

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