Category: News Posts

Life On Earth May Have Begun 300 Million Years Earlier Than Previously Thought

Living organisms may have existed on Earth as long as 4.1bn years ago – 300m years earlier than was previously thought, new research has shown.

If confirmed, the discovery means life emerged a remarkably short time after the Earth was formed from a primordial disc of dust and gas surrounding the sun 4.6bn years ago.

Researchers discovered the evidence in specks of graphite trapped within immensely old zircon crystals from Jack Hills, Western Australia.

Atoms in the graphite, a crystalline form of carbon, bore the hallmark of biological origin. They were enriched with 12C, a “light” carbon isotope, or atomic strain, normally associated with living things.

It suggests that a terrestrial biosphere had emerged on Earth as early as 4.1bn years ago, said the scientists writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The US scientists, led by Dr Mark Harrison, from the University of California at Los Angeles, said the graphite was completely encased in zircon that was crack-free and could not have been contaminated despite the passing of aeons.

They wrote: “This study extends the terrestrial carbon isotope record around 300m years beyond the previously oldest-measured samples from south-west Greenland.

Some non-biological processes could also produce the light form of carbon, notably meteorite impacts, said the researchers.

But the amount of extra-terrestrial carbon needed to account for the findings made meteorites an unlikely source.

A biogenic origin seems at least as plausible,” the scientists added.

Confirming the connection with early life would represent “a potentially transformational scientific advance” they said.

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3 Americans Win Nobel Prize In Medicine For Uncovering The Science Behind Our Biological Clocks

A trio of American scientists was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for revealing the mechanisms of the cellular clock that regulates biological changes in complex organisms across a 24-hour span.

Working at Brandeis University in the 1980s, Jeffrey C. Hall and Michael Rosbash uncovered the genetic basis of circadian rhythms in fruit flies.

Michael W. Young collaborated with Hall and Rosbash from Rockefeller University to isolate the key gene, which had been named “period” by scientists who had surmised its existence.

Hall, Rosbash and Young would go on to discover a variety of genetic and cellular mechanisms that keep the circadian clocks of living things ticking in sync with the Earth’s daily rotation.

Rosbash remains on the faculty at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., where Hall is a professor emeritus of biology. Young is still at Rockefeller University in New York City.

For some years, a team led by Hall and Rosbash competed against a team led by Young to be the first to clone the genes the group discovered.

But the threesome, now friends, have been widely recognized as the co-discoverers of the genetic mechanism underlying the circadian clock in complex organisms.

They were awarded the Hong Kong-based Shaw Prize in life sciences and medicine in 2013, an honor that may have paved the way for the Nobel Committee’s recognition.

The work honored Monday sheds light on how all multicellular creatures undergo regular changes in body temperature, hormones, metabolism and behavior that keep time with different phases of the day.

While the scientists conducted much of their pioneering work on fruit flies, the circadian clock is a powerful factor in human health as well.

It helps explain how jet lag and other disruptions to our evolved cycles of sleeping and waking can wear us down and contribute to disease.

Their research has laid the foundation for research into how the time of day influences everything from the way we think to how our bodies store calories or respond to medications.

In a world that’s open for business 24/7, research has shown that people who try to defy their circadian rhythms will eventually come up against the biological limits of their cells’ internal clocks.

Since the seminal discoveries by the three laureates, circadian biology has developed into a vast and highly dynamic research field, with implications for our health and well-being,” the Nobel committee said in its announcement Monday in Stockholm, Sweden.

Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said the trio’s work “is informing treatments for sleep disorders, obesity, mental health disorders, and other health problems.” The NIH has invested more than $30 million in their studies.

The work also underscores the sustained influence of our common environment on creatures up and down the evolutionary ladder.

The genetic mechanisms that keep fruit flies on a 24-hour cycle governed by day and night are the same as those for humans.

The research is “a great example of how studying fundamental biological processes in model organisms such as fruit flies reveals important principles that translate into a deeper understanding of human biology and disease,” said Jon R. Lorsch, director of the NIH’s National Institute on General Medical Sciences.

In its citation for the $1.1-million prize, the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said the researchers “were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings.

That process unfolded in many steps.

Hall, Rosbash and Young isolated the period gene in 1984.

It would take several more years for Hall and Rosbash to see that the protein encoded by that gene — called PER — went through a daily cycle of accumulating during the night and depleting over the course of the day.

How was that rhythm sustained? Hall and Rosbash surmised that some feedback loop was at work, whereby the buildup of PER protein inside the cell might dial down the period gene’s activity.

But they puzzled over how that shutoff signal was sent from the cytoplasm, where PER protein was produced, to the cell nucleus, where the genetic machinery was located.

That mystery was solved in 1994, with Young’s discovery of a second clock gene, which he called “timeless.” That gene also appeared to be required for organisms to maintain normal circadian rhythm, by encoding the production of a protein called TIM.

Young’s “elegant work,” the Nobel Committee wrote, showed that when the TIM and PER proteins were bound together, they were able to enter the cell nucleus.

There, they blocked the activity of the period gene and closed the feedback loop.

Over time, Young would go on to find a third timekeeper gene, which he dubbed “doubletime,” that would allow a more precise alignment of protein levels with a 24-hour cycle.

Hall, Rosbash and Young have identified additional proteins required for the activation of the period gene, as well as for the mechanism by which light can synchronize the clock.

Rosbash explained that the day-night cycle was the original environmental influence on humans and other living beings.

Before the atmosphere has its current constitution and before nutrition was anything like it is today, the Earth rotated on its axis and the light-dark cycle impinged on the beginnings of life,” he said Monday in an interview with Nobel officials.

Rosbash added that when he received the predawn call from Stockholm, he was so shocked that his wife had to remind him to breathe.

Young, too, said he struggled to digest the news.

I’d go and I’d pick up the shoes, and then I’d realize I need the socks,” he said during a news conference. “And then I realized I needed to put my pants on first.

The award brings the number of U.S.-born Nobel laureates to 259.

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Engineering Mosquito Gut Bacteria To Fight Malaria

A malarial mosquito is a flying factory for Plasmodium – a parasite that fills its guts, and storms the blood of every person it bites. By hosting and spreading these parasites, mosquitoes kill 1.2 million people every year.

But Plasmodium isn’t the only thing living inside a mosquito’s guts. Just as our bowels are home to trillions of bacteria, mosquitoes also carry their own microscopic menageries.

Now, Sibao Wang from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has transformed one of these bacterial associates into the latest recruit in our war against malaria.

By loading it with genes that destroy malarial parasites, Wang has turned the friend of our enemy into our friend.

Many groups of scientists have tried to beat malaria by genetically modifying the species of mosquito that carries it – Anopheles gambiae.

Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, who led Wang’s new study, has been at the forefront of these efforts. In 2002, his team loaded mosquitoes with a modified gene so that their guts produce a substance that kills off Plasmodium.

The approach worked very well in the laboratory,” says Jacobs-Lorena, but it would be impossible to load wild mosquitoes with the anti-malarial gene.

Instead, you’d have to ensure that the modified mosquitoes could out-compete their wild peers, so that the gene passes from one generation to the next via natural breeding.

It must also do so quickly before the parasite can evolve a countermeasure.

That’s very difficult to guarantee, especially given our limited understanding of the mating habits and ecology of mosquitoes.

Jacobs-Lorena found an alternative. He would sneak the Plasmodium-killing gene into the bacteria that live inside a mosquito’s guts, rather than the insect’s own genome.

We thought that it would be easier to introduce bacteria than genes into mosquitoes in the field,” he says.

The strategy has one big advantage: the gut is the most vulnerable part of Plasmodium’s complicated shape-shifting life cycle.

When the mosquito bites an infected human, it sucks up thousands of Plasmodium sex cells, which mate with each other to form fertilised eggs called ookinetes.

These invade the lining of the insect’s gut and become factories called oocysts. Each one manufactures thousands of long, worm-like sporozoites that swim into the mosquito’s salivary glands, ready to jump into a new person.

The oocyst stage is the bottleneck in this process. Even if a mosquito swallows thousands of Plasmodium cells, it typically ends up with far fewer oocysts in its gut.

In such small numbers, they make an attractive target, and it just so happens that the gut contains potential collaborators – bacteria.

Pantoea agglomerans is among the most common of these partners. It’s co-exists harmlessly with the mosquito and we still don’t know what, if any, role it performs.

Wang, a member of Jacobs-Lorena’s team, engineered P.agglomerans to make several proteins that turn the mosquito’s gut into a hostile zone for Plasmodium.

Some of these proteins interact the mosquito’s gut to prevent the young Plasmodium parasites from invading it, while others (including one derived from scorpion venom) tear the parasite apart.

The bacteria secrete these weapons into the gut where they get to work upon any invading Plasmodium.

It also helps that when a mosquito drinks blood, the numbers of P.agglomerans within it shoot up by over 100 times, creating a defence force that’s ready for the incoming parasites.

Wang found that the engineered bacteria slashed the numbers of oocysts in mosquitoes by 85 to 98 per cent.

Just 14 to 18 per cent of the insects carrying the defensive microbes became infected with Plasmodium after drinking contaminated blood, down from a typical proportion of 90 per cent.

Scientists who are trying to use GM-mosquitoes to fight dengue fever in Brazil and the US have already encountered severe hostility. The bacterial approach might fare even worse.

It relies on a GM bacterium which can’t be contained once released in mosquito populations, and will easily end up in the food chain and eventually also on peoples plates,” says Dimopoulos.

While such bacteria may not pose a hazard to humans and animals, the work required to prove, educate and finally convince various stakeholders that the implementation is safe will be lengthy and challenging.”

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China Plans To Launch Space Exploration Rockets From Sea Freighters And Planes

China is planning to use large sea-going freighters and heavy military transport planes to launch space exploration rockets starting next year.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC) will reportedly use 10,000-ton freighters as launch pads for its Long March 11 launch rocket. The Long March 11 can carry up to 1,100 pounds into low-earth orbit.

“Eastern Arsenal” bloggers Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer say the idea is use freighters to fire the rockets near the equator to save on fuel and loft bigger payloads.

The other option is for an airborne launch.

The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology announced this month that they’re developing a solid-fueled space launch rocket to be dropped from the Y-20, a heavy Chinese military transport plane.

The rocket itself is expected to weigh about 60 tons (the Y-20’s payload is 66 tons) and has a low Earth orbit payload of 220 pounds.

If you’re dropping a rocket from an airplane, as opposed to the launching from ground, the rocket’s first stage can be smaller, which means it’ll be more efficient and could handle a larger payload.

That means greater flexibility and a potentially quicker launch — both considerable military advantages.

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What Exactly Is The Eyeball Tattoos?

Warning: If the idea of a tattoo artist sticking a hypodermic needle filled with ink into the white of someone’s eyeball really, really grosses you out, you probably should skip the rest of this article and read something a little less unsettling.

Okay, you’re still reading, so you must not be that squeamish.

So let’s begin.

Corneal tattooing or eyeball tattoo is the practice of tattooing the cornea of the human eye.

Reasons for this practice include improvement of cosmetic appearance and the improvement of sight.

Many different methods and procedures exist today, and there are varying opinions concerning the safety or success of this practice.

Causes or reasons for corneal tattooing vary from patient to patient. Most patients receive treatment to alter the cosmetic appearance of their eyes following disease or accident.

Others receive treatment for optical purposes, including decreasing circumstantial glare within the iris. Corneal opacities are the leading reason for undergoing cosmetic tattooing.

The leading reason for corneal tattooing is to alter the appearance of the eye cosmetically. Usually, the need for this alteration stems from corneal opacities.

Corneal opacities may be caused by leucoma, keratitis or cataracts. Such opacities can be cosmetically disruptive for patients in their everyday lives.

Tattooing the cornea can alter a discoloration, blending an opacity into the normal eye color.

Most physicians agree that the procedure should only be performed on patients who have lost their vision or who do not expect to recover it.

Occasionally, corneal tattooing is performed when it might improve eyesight.

According to Dr. Samuel Lewis Ziegler, indications for treatment include albinism, aniridia, coloboma, iridodialysis, keratoconus, or diffused nebulae of the cornea.

Corneal tattooing is also performed on patients who still have vision to reduce symptomatic glare associated with large iridectomies or traumatic iris loss

Corneal tattooing has been practiced for almost 2000 years, first mentioned in history by Galen, a 2nd-century physician.

Methods of corneal tattooing have at times been practiced often and at other times faded into obscurity, but overall, the methods have evolved throughout history.

Galen of Pergamum, a Roman physician and philosopher, first described corneal tattooing in 150 AD, and the same procedure was later described by Aetius in 450 AD as an attempt to mask the leukomatous opacities of the eye.

Both physicians would cauterize the corneal surface with a heated stilet.

After the cauterization, they would apply the dye to the eye, using a variety of dyes, such as powdered nutgalls and iron or pulverized pomegranate bark mixed with copper salt.

This would then stain the cornea, correcting the cosmetic appearance for the patient. Other sources have mentioned that Galen might have used copper sulphate.

This procedure was probably only used on those patients with an unsightly corneal leukoma.

After Galen’s reference to corneal tattooing in the 2nd century, the practice is not mentioned until 1869, when oculoplastic surgeon Louis Von Wecker introduced a new method.

De Wecker, as he was also known, was the first to use black India ink to tattoo a leukoma of the eye.

He applied cocaine to the eye as a topical anesthetic, coated the cornea with a thick solution of ink, and inserted pigment into the corneal tissue obliquely with a grooved needle.

His method has influenced all subsequent methods.

New advances in technology have decreased the actual practice of corneal tattooing over the years. Instead, some of the following methods are used to disguise any corneal scarring: corneal grafting, keratoplasty techniques, and tinted contact lenses.

Also, advances in technology have decreased the probability of developing a dense corneal leucoma, such as chemotherapy, antibiotics, and the avoidance of “heroic measures of therapy.”

Although such advances in technology have decreased the popularity of corneal tattooing, some do practice it still.

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SpaceX Wants To Build One Rocket To Rule Them All

Elon Musk gave a keynote address yesterday to the International Aeronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.

During the 43 minute talk, which is embedded above, Musk laid out SpaceX’s future including colonizing Mars and building one rocket to rule them all.

The talk is fantastic. Elon was Elon and revealed countless details about future SpaceX plans. This is why he’s celebrated in certain circles.

He doesn’t hold back whether on Twitter or during interviews. Unlike other Silicon Valley companies, he seemingly keeps fewer details secret and is more willing to talk about things his companies are building.

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U.S. and Russia Teaming Up For Space Station Near The Moon With Plans To Put Humans On Mars

If the U.S. and Russia can’t get along on earth, maybe they will have better luck near the moon.

The countries’ space agencies on Wednesday announced an agreement to build the first lunar-orbiting space station. NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, both hope to put humans on Mars and see a lunar station as a “gateway” toward future deep-space goals.

The new station, which would reside inside the moon’s orbit, may eventually replace the aging International Space Station.

At a station within the moon’s orbit, astronauts could test systems in a “true deep space environment” like they would experience near Mars, but get back to Earth quickly if they need to, NASA officials explained in March.

The American organization has been vocal about their goals to send humans to Mars within the next two decades.

However, in the past few months, Russian leaders have been uncertain about collaborating on such a project, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Instead, Russian leaders have considered working on a different project with China, which, according to, has the largest fleet of spacecraft in orbit after the U.S.

But the NASA’s signed agreement with Roscosmos at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, secured the deal.

Russia and the U.S. will team up, with more minor players such as Japan, the European Space Agency and Canada still in discussion about joining the team.

While the deep space gateway is still in concept formulation, NASA is pleased to see growing international interest in moving into cislunar space as the next step for advancing human space exploration,” Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a press release.

Statements such as this one signed with Roscosmos show the gateway concept as an enabler to the kind of exploration architecture that is affordable and sustainable.

The agreement didn’t give details about funding or engineering specifics, but the Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. were reportedly asked to create risk-reduction and construction plans for the new station.

The International Space Station, which has been orbiting Earth since 1998, is supposed to go out of service in 2024 and would ideally be replaced by the lunar station.

But Boeing, the current station’s main contractor, warned that until the replacement is built, it is hard to predict when the current station will be put out of service.

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According To The Experts, Keeping Dirty Laundry In The Bedroom Allows Bed Bugs To Thrive

Keeping dirty laundry in the bedroom allows bed bugs to thrive because they are attracted to soiled clothing, a new study has shown.

Numbers of the nocturnal blood-sucking insects have soared in recent years, largely because of the boom in low cost international travel which has allowed them to spread between countries.

The parasites are a headache for hotel owners because infestations are difficult to spot until the bugs start biting.

However a new study by the University of Sheffield has shown that the insects are drawn to dirty laundry, which could be there method of ‘hitchhiking’ between countries.

Dr William Hentley, of the university’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, advised against leaving clothes exposed in sleeping areas.

Bed bugs are a huge problem for hotel and homeowners, particularly in some of the world’s biggest and busiest cities,” he said.

Once a room is infested with bed bugs, they can be very difficult to get rid of, which can result in people having to dispose of clothes and furniture that can be really costly.

Our study suggests that keeping dirty laundry in a sealed bag, particularly when staying in a hotel, could reduce the chances of people taking bed bugs home with them, which may reduce the spread of infestations.

In the study published in the Scientific Reports experiments were carried out in two identical, temperature-controlled rooms in which four tote bags were placed in the presence of bed bugs.

Two contained soiled clothes and the others clean. In each test, one room received an increase in concentration of CO² to simulate human breathing.

In the absence of a human host, bed bugs were twice as likely to aggregate on bags containing soiled clothes compared to those with the clean ones.

The findings suggest that the bugs are drawn to the residual body odour in dirty laundry, so worn clothes left in an open suitcase, or on the floor of an infested room may attract them.

It is the first time human odour has been considered as a potential mechanism facilitating long distance dispersal in bedbugs,” added Dr Henley.

Bed bugs struggle to walk up smooth surfaces, so when I go travelling I always look for those smooth metal luggage racks to keep my suitcase on. Failing that, I would keep my clothes in a big ziplock bag.

The common bedbug (Cimex lectularius) went into decline in the 1980s and 90s, but has recently undergone an aggressive resurgence, with cases more than doubling in the UK during the past few years.

Before feeding they are a flattened oval shape, light brown and around 5mm long, but after a blood meal, they swell up to become rounder and darker.

They can survive for six months without feeding and although they are not dangerous, they can cause extreme discomfort and stress to those who are bitten by them.

Usually small, red bites on the skin is the first indication of a bed bug problem in the house and they can quickly spread between rooms.

Although bed bugs cannot jump or fly, they can crawl long distances, so can quickly spread throughout a building.

Further signs of the bugs are white eggs in mattress crevices, or tiny black spots which could be excrement.

Blood spots appearing on the sheets, as you squash the bugs in your sleep, and an unpleasant, musty scent in your bedroom are also tell-tale signs.

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Plastic Junk Brought Invasive Species to U.S. After Japan’s 2011 Tsunami

In 2011, a massive earthquake shook Japan and reshaped the seafloor. The quake shoved an area the size of Connecticut up by 30 feet.

The tsunami that followed killed roughly 18,000 people. As water swamped the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, three reactors melted down. Japan’s wounds are still healing.

The tsunami swept 5 million tons of debris into the ocean. Much of the junk did not degrade. Fiberglass boats, far-flung buoys and plastic shards swirled through the Pacific.

Some of the objects came to rest half a world away, like the 60-foot-long polystyrene and concrete dock that landed in Oregon in the summer of 2012.

The dock completed its 4,000-mile journey by beaching itself close to Oregon State University’s Marine Science Center.

A university biologist who specialized in marine invasive species was one of the first people to approach it. Researchers later discovered that the dock harbored close to 100 Japanese species.

That was the neon light,” said marine biologist James Carlton, a Williams College professor based in Mystic, Conn. “That was the harbinger of things to come.”

Carlton and a team of fellow scientists realized the Pacific Northwest faced a flood — not of water but borne by it, of unsinkable junk caked with marine life.

No one could stop the flood, but the researchers could at least document it. The scientists created a network of volunteers in Hawaii and Alaska, down the Pacific Northwest to the middle of California.

State and local officials, park rangers and legions of citizen scientists reported or bagged up what became known, in the biologists’ lingo, as JTMDs: Japanese tsunami marine debris.

If a boat landed on the beach in San Francisco,” Carlton said, “I’d get a call in my lab within a couple of hours.

The JTMDs ferried a lot of animals, as the scientists described in a paper published Thursday in the journal Science.

During six years of study, from June 2012 to February, Carlton and his colleagues counted more than 280 species of Japanese hitchhikers on 600 pieces of debris.

Most were spineless marine critters: sea stars, sea slugs, oysters, barnacles, mussels, amphipods, bryozoa and isopods. Only a few alien arrivals, two species of Japanese fish, had backbones.

This was unlike anything Carlton had witnessed in his 50 years of studying marine invasions, he said. “As time went on, the eyebrows keep going higher and higher. The jaw keeps dropping lower and lower.”

Although the scale of the event was unprecedented, the concept — that rafts carry animals across oceans — was not.

Transoceanic crossings have happened for millions of years.

A recent genetic study of trapdoor spiders found that they must have crossed on a raft from Africa to Australia a few million years ago.

The spider relatives on each continent were too closely related to have last shared an ancestor when Africa and Australia were still geologically connected, some 100 million years back.

Humans have witnessed these arrivals, too. In one well-documented case, 15 iguanas floated atop a cluster of uprooted trees to the Caribbean island of Anguilla in 1995.

The lizards have since established a breeding population on the island.

Of the Japanese species that arrived on the tsunami debris, about a third were already present on the American Pacific coast.

But the foreign animals colonized the wreckage long before the debris came close to shore, Carlton said. The authors of the recent study tracked how currents propelled the debris.

The JTMDs spent the bulk of their journey at sea. “It comes to shore within a few days, acquired by the coastal current — and then, bam! Onto the beach.

The debris at sea becomes like “traveling villages,” Fraser said. “Many rafting organisms brood their young — so their kids grow up on the same raft.” A raft doesn’t have to be artificial.

Fraser and her colleagues tracked marine life that moved hundreds of miles while attached to floating kelp.

Tsunami debris continues to wash up along the Pacific Northwest, most frequently following spring currents. Carlton said he expects the objects and their living cargo to arrive for the next 10 springs to come.

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New Gravitational Wave Detection Shows Shape Of Ripples From Black Hole Collision

Astronomers have made a new detection of gravitational waves and for the first time have been able to trace the shape of ripples sent through spacetime when black holes collide.

The announcement, made at a meeting of the G7 science ministers in Turin, marks the fourth cataclysmic black-hole merger that astronomers have spotted using Ligo, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

The latest detection is the first to have also been picked up by the Virgo detector, located near Pisa, Italy, providing a new layer of detail on the three dimensional pattern of warping that occurs during some of the most violent and energetic events in the universe.

A tiny wobble in the signal, picked up by Ligo’s twin instruments and the Virgo detector on 14 August, could be traced back to the final moments of the merger of two black holes about 1.8bn years ago.

The black holes, with masses about 31 and 25 times the mass of the sun, combined to produce a newly spinning black hole with about 53 times the mass of the sun.

The remaining three solar masses were converted into pure energy that spilled out as deformations that spread outwards across spacetime like ripples across a pond.

Detecting these tiny distortions has required detectors sensitive enough to measuring a discrepancy of just one thousandth of the diameter of an atomic nucleus across a 4km laser beam.

What is a gravity wave?

Rippling out from a super- massive collision, for example between two black holes, gravity waves could be detected through the stretching and contracting of space and time.

How Ligo and Virgo’s detectors work?

  1. A single laser beam is split and directed down two identical tubes, 4km long
  2. Mirrors reflect the twin beams back to a detector
  3. Back inside the detector, the laser beams arrive perfectly aligned
  4. Recombined, they cancel each other out

How are gravity waves detected?

  1. When spacetime is distorted by a gravity wave, the two tubes change length. One tube stretches as the other contracts over and over until the wave has passed
  2. As the distances fluctuate the peaks and troughs of the two returning laser beams move in and out of alignment
  3. The recombined waves no longer cancel each other out. Light reaches the detector and the gravity wave can be measured

Ligo scientists’ historic observation of gravitational waves in September 2015, marked the first experimental proof of Einstein’s prediction a century ago that space itself can be stretched and squeezed.

However, the parallel orientation of the two Ligo detectors, one in Hanford, Washington state, the other in Livingston, Louisiana, has meant that scientists are effectively observing one flat plane through space, rather than getting a 3D picture.

It’s like if I give you just one slice of apple, you can’t guess what the fruit looks like,” said Prof Andreas Freise, a Ligo project scientist at the University of Birmingham.

This was intentional because it maximised the chances of detection – a discovery that is hotly tipped to be rewarded when the Physics Nobel Prize is announced next week.

However, the configuration made it impossible to test a second crucial prediction of Einstein’s theory – the shape of the path that the waves travel along.

Virgo’s arms are angled differently than the two Ligo detectors, allowing astronomers to extract new information about the polarisation of gravitational waves – essentially the path traced out by the vibrations.

Einstein’s theory predicts two polarisations of gravitational waves, but some competing theories of gravity predict up to six.

Prof Stefan Ballmer, a physics professor at Syracuse University, explains: “If you look at how you can bend the sheet of paper that spacetime is, there are many ways you can bend it. But if you look at [Einstein’s predictions], only two of those ways are present.

The new data – albeit based on a single detection – already appear to strongly favour Einstein’s predictions of how spacetime is expected to crumple.

Combining results from three detectors has also allowed scientists to more accurately triangulate the area of sky from which the waves are emanating.

In future, this could allow scientists to swing ground-based telescopes to the target locations to see whether there is any visible trace of the collision itself.

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