Radio astronomers operating telescopes at the South Pole said Monday that they've discovered evidence that the universe ballooned out of the Big Bang due to a massive gravitational force generated by space itself. The discovery is being called the "smoking gun" for the Big Bang theory, and it could have huge implications for our understanding of our universes (and possible others).

Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist John M. Kovac and his team detected gravitational waves—tiny ripples in the fabric of space—that could be the first real evidence for the "inflation" hypothesis of how the universe basically bubbled into being nearly 14 billion years ago. The discovery also suggests that our 14 billion light-years of space aren't all that's out there—our universe could be a tiny corner of something much, much bigger.

Stanford physicist Alan Guth, who first proposed inflation 35 years ago, told the New York Times he was "bowled over" that evidence of inflation has finally been spotted.

"With nature, you have to be lucky," he said. "Apparently we have been lucky."

Although this may be the biggest astronomical discovery since the Big Bang itself, the energy that powered inflation's repulsive force still remains a mystery. So does whatever came before inflation, as it was erased by the expansion of the universe.

[H/T: Discovery, Photo Credit: Keith Vanderlinde/National Science Foundation]