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Jothisha Sri Lanka
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Scientists are claiming a stunning discovery in their quest to fully understand gravity.

They have observed the warping of space-time generated by the collision of two black holes more than a billion light-years from Earth.

The international team says the first detection of these gravitational waves will usher in a new era for astronomy.

It is the culmination of decades of searching and could ultimately offer a window on the Big Bang.

The research, by the Ligo Collaboration, has been accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The collaboration operates a number of labs around the world that fire lasers through long tunnels, trying to sense ripples in the fabric of space-time.

Expected signals are extremely subtle, and disturb the machines, known as interferometers, by just fractions of the width of an atom.

But the black hole merger was picked up by two widely separated LIGO facilities in the US.

"We have detected gravitational waves," David Reitze, executive director of the Ligo project, told journalists at a news conference in Washington DC.

Prof Karsten Danzmann, from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics and Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany, is a European leader on the collaboration.

He said the detection was one of the most important developments in science since the discovery of the Higgs particle, and on a par with the determination of the structure of DNA.

"There is a Nobel Prize in it - there is no doubt," he told the BBC.

"It is the first ever direct detection of gravitational waves; it's the first ever direct detection of black holes and it is a confirmation of General Relativity because the property of these black holes agrees exactly with what Einstein predicted almost exactly 100 years ago."