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Albert Einstein, 1921. Photo: Wikimedia CommonsIt took a century, but scientists have verified Albert Einstein.

A ripple in space-time – a thousandth of a proton in diameter, in transit for more than a billion years – is the “sound” of one of the most explosive acts in the universe: two black holes colliding. The dramatic crunch created a chirp, recorded in September, proving Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity correct - and for the first time allowing humanity to “listen in” on the music of the universe, the National Science Foundation announced today.

“We have detected gravitational waves – we did it,” said David Reitze, Laser Interferometer Gravitation-Wave Observatory executive director, Caltech. “It’s the first time the universe has spoken to us in gravitational waves.”

Scientists at the LIGO, located in two massive locations in a rural nook of Louisiana and in Washington State, recorded the miniscule blip and took five months to verify that it was indeed the proof of Einstein’s theories on the universe.

Gravitational waves, ripples in space-time caused by the universe’s most-dramatic acts, have been the long-sought evidence of Einstein’s conceptualization.

Supernovae, collisions of black holes, and the creation of neutron stars through thermonuclear conflagrations are so disruptive that they cause the fabric of the universe to vibrate like a drum. But by the time the ripples reach the Earth, they are diminished to just a billionth of the diameter of an atom.

Read more: Could Gravitational Waves, Evidence of Einstein’s Relativity, be Unveiled this Week?

Lasers bouncing back and forth between mirrors at the massive facilities in Washington and Louisiana were used to make the most precise measuring tool ever created, said Gabriela Gonzalez LIGO Scientific Collaboration Spokesperson, at Louisiana State University.

“For 4 kilometers… that’s incredibly tiny,” Gonzalez said of the September measurements. “But we know it’s real, because seven milliseconds later, we saw the same wave in the Hanford detector… The coincidence is remarkable.

“This is just the beginning,” said Gonzalez. “This is the first of many to come.”

Kip Thorne, LIGO co-founder at Caltech, explained that humanity had been looking at the universe as if it gazing at the still surface of the ocean. This was the first brief glimpse of a storm on that ocean, Thorne said.

“A storm in which the shape of time and space was bent this way and that way," he said. “The storm was brief – 20 milliseconds – but very powerful... The total power output... was 50 times greater than all the stars in the universe combined."

France Cordova, the National Science Foundation director, said her agency focuses on funding “trailblazers” – and the LIGO project, begun in 1992 as the most-expensive of its kind up until that time, has proven to be a wise investment.

“It was a big risk. But the NSF is the agency that takes these kind of risks,” said Cordova.

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