Scientists have announced the fourth discovery of gravitational waves produced by the collision of two black holes — and it’s the first such smash-up found with the help of the European Virgo detector.

The discovery of GW170814 by both the LIGO and Virgo collaborations, described this week at the G7 science ministers meeting in Turin, Italy, marks a major advance in physicists’ ability to study these powerful phenomena.

“Today marks an exciting milestone in the growing international scientific effort to unlock the extraordinary mysteries of our universe,” France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation, which funded LIGO, said at the meeting.

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time, caused as objects accelerate or decelerate though space. These ripples, predicted by Albert Einstein, are so difficult to detect that even Einstein doubted that they would be found.

But researchers have now built detectors that can directly observe gravitational waves, particularly those caused by the violent smash-up of a pair of black holes spinning around one another.

This newfound ability to detect them gives scientists a whole new window on the universe — one that allows them to directly observe certain powerful events, including those that don’t emit light and therefore can’t be seen with telescopes.

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