We start today with exciting news from the South Pole. A group of scientists, called BICEP2, have announced they have found a distinctive signal related to the Big Bang, the leading theory as to how our universe came to be.
Using a powerful telescope at the South Pole -one of the darkest places on the planet and so an excellent place to observe deep space – they have detected a distinctive pattern of gravitational waves echoing through the cosmos. These waves are known to have been created by the rapid expansion of our universe just moments after the bang that started it all.
This pattern of gravitational waves, called B-mode polarisation, has been theorised for decades but have never been found until now.
The reason this discovery is so important is because it gives us real, tangible evidence that the Big Bang actually developed the way we think it did. The scientific community already has mountains of evidence that the Big Bang occurred, but our knowledge of a very specific incident during the process was lacking.
So, before the Big Bang, all of our universe is thought to have been compacted into an unimaginably small area. A miniscule fraction of a second after the cosmic explosion, the universe became exponentially bigger. This is known as inflation. This inflationary period smoothed out the entire universe, giving it the size and appearance of a tennis ball, with pleasantly rounded edges. Since then, the fabric of spacetime has been growing outwards ever since.
By studying the background emissions of space, the BICEP2 team discovered the dynamic twist of B-mode rippling subtly through the noise of deep space.
Pictured above is the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). This is all the disruptions we detect when we point a receiver telescope into the skies and aim it to the oldest part of space. It was by examining the CMB in excruciating detail with the BICEP telescope that the scientists were able to find inflation’s characteristic rumble between the stars.
“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 at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He was the leader of the BICEP2 collaboration, referring to the discovery as “smoking gun” evidence for the Big Bang.
“Why the cosmic microwave background temperature is the same at different spots in the sky would be a mystery if it was not for inflation saying, well, our whole sky came from this tiny region,” Chuck Bennett, a top figure in NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe mission, told Space.com in 2013.
So what does it mean?
By finding this, we have added to the overwhelming evidence for the Big Bang that happened eons ago. Personally, I find it brilliant that we have the ability to look back to the dawn of time itself, 13.78 billions years ago, and learn about the origins of -well, everything.
This is a big discovery. These findings will certainly be worth a Nobel Prize once the results of BICEP’s observations are confirmed by other scientists. Although, the BICEP team spent three years checking their data, looking for other possibilities than just B-mode. It is very promising.
As an aside, there is a Professor who as spent his career investigating inflation -Andrei Linde. He is the father of the inflationary theory having spent over 30 years forming predictions of what B-mode would look and act like. On the day of the announcement, a BICEP scientist arrived at Linde’s home with a video camera to deliver the news.
The reaction from Linde, and his wife, is wonderful:
[Cover Image via Creative Commons]
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