Findings, Science. The Beginning of Everything we Know

Have scientists solved one of astronomy’s most elusive and enduring mysteries? Has an American team finally nailed the evidence to back the Big Bang ideas that scientists have discussed since Albert Einstein proposed them?

Though it was suspected gravitational waves swept throughout the universe almost instantly after it began — in a mind-bogglingly rapid expansion, marking the birth of everything we think we know — nobody had found traces of those waves. Until now.

The peer-reviewed science journal Nature reported today that an American team of researchers led by John Kovac, part of a project at the South Pole called BICEP2, has found “the most convincing evidence yet” of gravitational waves at the birth of the universe. Already a Nobel is being discussed, if the research can be verified.

Wrote Ron Cowan in Nature:

“Astronomers have peered back to nearly the dawn of time and found what seems to be the long-sought ‘smoking gun’ for the theory that the Universe underwent a spurt of wrenching, exponential growth called inflation during the first tiny fraction of a second of its existence. Using a radio telescope at the South Pole, the US-led team has detected the first evidence of primordial gravitational waves, ripples in space that inflation generated 13.8 billion years ago when the Universe first started to expand …”

“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 research and the thinking behind it is explained in Cowan’s feature, which Nature had made publicly available at the time I post. Or, if you prefer, watch the Nature video, below.

–Deborah Jones