A new European space mission will listen for the “sound” made by gravity disturbing the fabric of space-time.
Scientists hope to detect the first direct evidence of gravitational waves created by extremely violent cosmic events such as colliding black holes.
Gravitational waves, which were predicted by Albert Einstein, are theorised ripples in space-time which can be compared with sound waves.
Listening to them might make it possible to hark back to the Big Bang itself, the moment when the universe exploded out of nothing around 14 billion years ago.
The eLISA (Laser Interferometary Space Antenna) space observatory is due to be launched by the European Space Agency in 2034.
Mission scientist professor Tim Sumner, from Imperial College London, said: “This mission will enable us to study the universe in a completely new way - we’ll be ’listening’ to it as well as looking at it.
“Over the centuries astronomy has grown to cover more and more of the electromagnetic spectrum, seeing more colours if you like, whether visible light, infrared, X-rays or submillimetre. With gravitational waves, we’ll have a totally different way of collecting information. It’s as though we’ve been watching a television with the sound off, and now we’re going to be able to turn the sound up and have a much clearer sense of what’s happening.
“The possibilities are mind-blowing. We’ll be able to get to grips with black holes; see how gravity works more precisely than ever before; and potentially even see what happened in the seconds after the Big Bang.”
Colleague Dr Harry Ward, who heads an eLISA team from the University of Glasgow, said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be at the heart of a mission that will yield completely new insights into the nature and origin of our universe.”