Physicists say they have for the first time observed ripples in the fabric of space and time generated by the violent collision of two black holes more than a billion light-years from Earth.  The discovery fulfills a prediction of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.

"We have detected gravitational waves.  We did it," said David Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), at a press conference in Washington.  It pulls back the curtain on what astronomers call the "dark" Universe - the majority part of the cosmos that is invisible to the light telescopes in use today.  They hope it will lead to discoveries far beyond what has been detectable up until now.

Excited scientists liken it to having watched TV for some 50 years, and finally being able to turn the sound up and listening to what's happening out there.  "Now that we have the detectors to see these systems, now that we know binary black holes are out there - we'll begin listening to the Universe," said team member Prof Gabriela Gonzalez of Louisiana State University. 

Einstein predicted that if the gravity in an area was suddenly changed, waves of gravitational energy would ripple across the Universe at light-speed, stretching and squeezing space as they traveled.

"Gravitational waves provide a completely new way at looking at the Universe.  The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionize astronomy.  This discovery is the first detection of a black hole binary system and the first observation of black holes merging," said Professor Stephen Hawking.