Why haven't scientists been able to provide proof of the "Cosmic Strings" that they claim surround the universe? A new theory suggests that it's because the strings have broken and gotten lost in time... possibly making them easier to find.

The potential existence of Cosmic Strings - lines of pure mass-energy with as much mass as the sun, but as wide as a proton at most - has been described as the result of matter "cooling" into galaxies following the Big Bang, potentially giving us an insight into how the universe was formed. The theory came from physicist Thomas Kibble in 1976, but remained somewhat unproven ever since.

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New Scientist reports that evidence of the hypothetical "topological defects" in space-time may have proven to be so difficult to find because the strings were too unstable to exist in the form that scientists expected:

As the strings broke... analysis shows that their split ends would have been capped off by more monopoles, eventually leading to a universe filled with fragmented strings with beads at their ends. In an infant universe, these high-tension strings would have been whipping around, accelerating the massive beads to relativistic speeds. These would have generated tight beams of gravitational waves, which could still be travelling through space-time.

The theory comes from a team led by Ben Shlaer of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, who explained:

It's possible that if you wait long enough, one of those highly focused bursts would hit the Earth, and that would cause one of our gravitational wave detectors to chirp.

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So apparently we're going from looking for hypothetical cosmic strings to waiting for theoretical strands traveling through space-time to come and hit the Earth...? I'm not convinced that that's the greatest idea of how to prove the existence of something that I've ever heard, I have to admit.

Cosmic 'whips' may have left their mark [New Scientist]