Researchers believe they have uncovered incredible evidence that supports the Big Bang Theory of the formation of the Universe.
Editor's Note: Our original story seemed to suggest the Cosmic Microwave Background was recently found; we have clarified that what was found was a signal within the CMB.
The theoretical signal that would have been left behind by the rapid expansion of the early Universe has been identified by an American team using a telescope at the South Pole. The results will face intense scrutiny, but if confirmed, a Nobel Prize is almost a guarantee.
"This is spectacular," commented Prof Marc Kamionkowski, from Johns Hopkins University.
"I've seen the research; the arguments are persuasive, and the scientists involved are among the most careful and conservative people I know," he told BBC News.
The concept of "inflation" was introduced in the early 1980s when the Big Bang Theory couldn't explain why deep space looks roughly the same on all sides of the sky. Inflation would have seen the infant Universe have an exponential growth spurt during its first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second of existence, which would have smoothed out any unevenness. But this inflation theory also predicted that associated waves of gravitational energy would have accompanied this growth spurt and left an indelible mark on the oldest light in the sky - the Cosmic Microwave Background.
"Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today. A lot of work by a lot of people has led up to this point," said Prof John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a leader of the collaboration.