The holy grail of physics – gravity waves – is within reach.

If scientists in Europe and the US are right, within months there will be a new way of observing the cosmos, confirmation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity and an unprecedented view of the birth of the universe.

It all centres on two 600-metre-long corrugated steel pipes emerging at right angles from a grey cabin in the corner of a field in Ruthe, near Hanover, in northern Germany.

The cabin contains the heart of the Anglo-German GEO 600 interferometer, an instrument so sensitive it can detect an object moving one million billionth of a millimetre.

Over the weekend, colleagues at Hanford, in Washington state in the US, switched on the detector that will act in partnership with GEO 600.

The team believes it is just months away from humanity’s first detection of gravitational waves – shifts in space and time caused by the movement of massive astronomical bodies.

Professor Bernard Schutz, of the University of Wales in Cardiff and a leading member of GEO 600, said: “Up until now we have been able to learn a great deal about the universe by what we can see. The ability to detect and read gravitational waves will give us as much extra information about the universe as being suddenly given the ability to hear.”

In his general theory of relativity set out in 1916, Albert Einstein proposed that bodies such as stars cause distortions in the fabric of space, in a similar way to the effect of placing a heavy ball on a piece of elasticated material.

Gravity, created by the presence of mass, bends space-time and determines that a body travelling through space past a star, for example, will follow a “curved” path.

Assuming Einstein was right, whenever a mass accelerates, gravitational waves are sent out across the universe causing shudders in time and space.

More here.