03-17-2014, 11:01 AM
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Scientists have found the first direct evidence that the universe expanded incredibly quickly in the microseconds after the Big Bang.
They found these signatures of cosmic inflation as gravitational waves from the Big Bang from the cosmic microwave background radiation of our universe. These gravitational waves rippled through our infant universe during an explosive period of growth called inflation when the universe expanded by 100 trillion trillion times, in less than the blink of an eye.
That inflation happened about 13.82 billion years ago , as the universe expanded from nothingness to the vastness of space as we see it today:
The major announcement came from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Here's the technical data and papers that go along with the announcement from the group at the Bicep (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) project.
"This work offers new insights into some of our most basic questions: Why do we exist? How did the universe begin?," astrophysicist Avi Loeb, who wasn't a member of the study team said in a statement about the Harvard-Smithsonian research. "These results are not only a smoking gun for inflation, they also tell us when inflation took place and how powerful the process was."
Here's the kind of data they are working with, this image of the cosmic microwave background radiation from the Plank telescope. The information derived from this gravity wave data will give us an idea of what the universe was like when it just came into existence:
Gravitational waves were the last untested prediction of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The BICEP researchers were analyzing data from the early universe to find the signals of these waves. According to cosmologists on twitter, the result was significant.
"It's been called the Holy Grail of cosmology," Hiranya Peiris, a cosmologist from University College London, told The Guardian. "It would be a real major, major, major discovery."
Nature News notes this discovery is likely to get a Nobel Prize:
"This is a totally new, independent piece of cosmological evidence that the inflationary picture fits together," says theoretical physicist Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, who proposed the idea of inflation in 1980. He adds that the study is "definitely" worthy of a Nobel prize.
The researchers used a specialized telescope called Bicep (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) at the south pole to gather their data.
Here's a great post for more details on cosmic inflation, from Sean Carroll at the Preposterous Universe.
There are still reasons not to get ahead of ourselves. This new data will need to be scrutinized by other scientists and confirmed by other experiments.