Cosmologists were last night excitedly anticipating one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in history - a direct window into how the universe was born.
An announcement, early this morning NZT, by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, was rumoured to confirm the detection of "primordial gravitational waves", or the ripples in the fabric of spacetime, echoing the "big bang" which created the universe 14 billion years ago.
The minuscule ripples are likened to waves crossing an ocean but in the fabric of the universe, carrying energy across space - something that would give scientists critical information into how the universe was created. If proven, such a discovery would confirm the last untested prediction of Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and change the face of physics and cosmology.
"If it's true, it means we are getting a direct window into the big bang, a trillionth trillionth of a trillionth of a second after it happened," said Professor Richard Easther, head of physics at University of Auckland. "So the question of why is it that the universe looks like it does today is apparently answered in that time, and we would be getting some answers about that."
Professor Easther couldn't imagine any discovery in cosmology that would be more important.
"It would be a game changer not just for cosmology, but also for particle physics - you've doubled down, and starting to answer not just where everything in the universe comes from, but also why it works the way it does."