Astronomers discover echo of the Big Bang

Scientists have detected ripples from the first moments after the Big Bang. Photo: ITV News

Astronomers today announced a discovery they hope could prove the Big Bang theory of how the universe was created.

ITV News Science Editor Lawrence McGinty reports:

The Harvard University team used a specially designed telescope facility in the South Pole to search for microwaves generated when the universe exploded into existence around 14 billion years ago.

The scientists used this telescope in the South Pole to detect a faint echo of the Big Bang. Credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University/PA Wire

The project, named BICEP2, involved trying to find a signal of "inflation", the process by which the universe expanded extremely rapidly in the fraction of a second which followed the Big Bang.

The implications for this detection stagger the mind. We are measuring a signal that comes from the dawn of time.

– Jamie Bock, project leader on BICEP2

The tiny ripples the team found, known as gravitational waves, were predicted by Albert Einstein over a century ago, but this is the first time their existence has been verified.

This graph shows the distinctive twisting pattern created by the gravitational waves. Credit: The BICEP2 Collaboration/PA Wire

Professor John Kovac, who headed up the research, said the discovery was "one of the most important goals in cosmology today".

If the research is independently confirmed the team's work could be in line for a Nobel Prize.