Proof of gravitational waves created by cosmic inflation is shown here in this image of the cosmic microwave background radiation collected by the BICEP2 experiment at the South Pole.
(Image Source: BICEP2 Collaboration)
By Clara Moskowitz
Physicists have found a long-predicted twist in light from the big bang that represents the first image of ripples in the universe called gravitational waves, researchers announced today. The finding is direct proof of the theory of inflation, the idea that the universe expanded extremely quickly in the first fraction of a nanosecond after it was born. What’s more, the signal is coming through much more strongly than expected, ruling out a large class of inflation models and potentially pointing the way toward new theories of physics, experts say.
“This is huge,” says Marc Kamionkowski, professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, who was not involved in the discovery but who predicted back in 1997 how these gravitational wave imprints could be found. “It’s not every day that you wake up and find out something completely new about the early universe. To me this is as Nobel Prize–worthy as it gets.”
The Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2) experiment at the South Pole found a pattern called primordial B-mode polarization in the light left over from just after the big bang, known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This pattern, basically a curling in the polarization, or orientation, of the light, can be created only by gravitational waves produced by inflation. “It looks like a swirly pattern on the sky,” says Chao-Lin Kuo, a physicist at Stanford University, who designed the BICEP2 detector. “We’ve found the smoking gun evidence for inflation and we’ve also produced the first image of gravitational waves across the sky.”
Such a groundbreaking finding requires confirmation from other experiments to be truly believed, physicists say. Nevertheless, the result has won praise from many leaders in the field. “There’s a chance it could be wrong, but I think it’s highly probable that the results stand up,” says Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who first predicted inflation in 1980. “I think they’ve done an incredibly good job of analysis.” The BICEP2 detectors found a surprisingly strong signal of B-mode polarization, giving them enough data to surpass the “5-sigma” statistical significance threshold for a true discovery. In fact, the researchers were so startled to see such a blaring signal in the data that they held off on publishing it for more than a year, looking for all possible alternative explanations for the pattern they found. Finally, when BICEP2’s successor at the same location, the Keck Array, came online and began showing the same result, the scientists felt confident. “That played a major role in convincing us this is something real,” Kuo says.
More - Link >>> http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gravity-waves-cmb-b-mode-polarization/?&WT.mc_id=SA_DD_20140317
Source: Scientific American Magazine.
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