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Astrophysicists are casting doubt on what just recently was deemed a breakthrough in confirming how the universe was born: the observation of gravitational waves that apparently rippled through space right after the Big Bang.

If proven to be correctly identified, these waves - predicted in Albert Einstein's theory of relativity - would confirm the rapid and violent growth spurt of the universe in the first fraction of a second marking its existence, 13.8 billion years ago.

The apparent first direct evidence of such so-called cosmic inflation - a theory that the universe expanded by 100 trillion trillion times in barely the blink of an eye - was announced in March by experts at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The detection was made with the help of a telescope called BICEP2, stationed at the South Pole.

“Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today,” John Kovac, leader of the BICEP2 collaboration at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said at the time.

The telescope targeted a specific area known as the “Southern Hole” outside the galaxy where there is little dust or extra galactic material to interfere with what humans could see.

By observing the cosmic microwave background, or a faint glow left over from the Big Bang, the scientists said small fluctuations gave them new clues about the conditions in the early universe.

The gravitational waves rippled through the universe 380 000 years after the Big Bang, and these images were captured by the telescope, they claimed.

If confirmed by other experts, some said the work could be a contender for the Nobel Prize.

But not everyone is convinced of the findings, with scepticism surfacing recently on blogs and scientific US journals such as Science and New Scientist.

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