The discovery of gravity waves could "revolutionise astronomy", says Professor Stephen Hawking.

Congratulating scientists on their ground-breaking work, the top cosmologist said the breakthrough tallied with predictions he made more than 40 years ago at Cambridge University.

He told the BBC: "Gravitational waves provide a completely new way of looking at the universe. The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionise astronomy.

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"This discovery is the first detection of a black-hole binary system and the first observation of black holes merging."

Prof. Hawking is research director at Cambridge University's Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics.

Asked what more could be discovered if scientists scanned for gravitational waves, he said: "Apart from testing general relativity we could hope to see black holes throughout the history of the universe."

Professor John Womersley, chief executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, said: "It has taken 100 years and the combined work of many hundreds of the cleverest scientists, engineers and mathematicians on Earth to prove that this key prediction of Albert Einstein is correct, and show that gravitational waves exist.

"Of course, Einstein was always the smartest guy in the room. Today's results also remind us just how important the UK's contribution to world-leading science is."

Not only was this the first time anyone had detected a gravity wave, but the discovery also marked the first confirmation of two black holes fusing together.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (Ligo) project began 25 years ago but the search for the waves began in earnest last September.

Theoretical physicist Professor Kip Thorne, from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), who originally proposed the Ligo experiment in the 1980s, said the detection of gravity waves would make it possible to spot black holes tearing stars apart, and perhaps violent phenomena previously unknown to science.

Dr Ed Daw, from the University of Sheffield, who has been researching gravitational waves with Ligo since 1998, said: "Discoveries of this importance in physics come along about every 30 years.

"A measure of its significance is that even the source of the wave - two black holes in close orbit, each tens of times heavier than the Sun, which then collide violently - has never been observed before, and could not have been observed by any other method. This is just the beginning."