Science Snapshot: First evidence for the Big Bang’s inflation found
BICEP2 Telescope in Antarctica – Copyright (Steffen Richter / Harvard)
To stay innovative, it helps to stay curious about the trends in science and what may be on the horizon. Scientists from Harvard have just released evidence for gravitational waves, the first evidence directly supporting the theory of inflation after the Big Bang.
“Somebody is going to win a Nobel prize for this” is what people in the Physics community are saying about results soon to be published by a team from Harvard. Their experiments using the BICEP2 (“Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization.”) telescope in Antarctica have found the first direct evidence for the Big Bang, which created our universe approximately 13.8 billion years ago.
Specifically, the team has found evidence for gravitational waves in the polarisation of light in the Cosmic Background Rradiation, which is the remnant of the rapid expansion of the early universe. These gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein nearly 100 years ago when he formulated how gravity affects Space-time. Scientists have been searching for the existence of Gravitational Waves for years, since it is related to one specific aspect of the Big Bang Theory: the period right after the bang, when all matter expanded in size by many orders of magnitude in a tiny amount of time.
How fast exactly? Computer models indicate that the universe expanded by 100 trillion trillion times in .0000000000000000000000000000000001 (10 to the minus-34) seconds after the Big Bang explosion
Importantly, the results appear to have an accuracy of greater than 5 sigma. In other words, the odds of seeing this signal by chance are less than 1 in 3.5 million. The team has even been looking over their data for more than three years, ruling out any other source of the signal such as experimental error.
“This has been like looking for a needle in a haystack, but instead we found a crowbar,” team co-leader Clem Pryke, with the University of Minnesota, said in a press release.
The biggest proponent of inflation theory so far has been Prof Andrei Linde of Stanford. See how he reacts when he’s surprised with the results of the experiment:
So yeah, this evidence is a pretty big deal.
Wait a minute Nick, haven’t we had evidence about the Big Bang for decades?
Not quite. The Big Bang theory originated with Edwin Hubble who noticed that galaxies and stars were actually accelerating away from each other, and if you reversed that trend it would imply that the universe had a single point of infinitely high density and energy where it began. This theory is well established and supported by numerous other observations, including the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, the red-shift of stars and the amount of light elements in the known universe.
History of the universe timeline – Wikipedia
In fact, up until this new evidence was discovered, this video summarises our understanding of the history of the universe really well:
What many people may not realise is that over the last decade or so, there has been a growing amount of academic pressure to question whether or not the Big Bang happened, or whether it was even possible. The issue lies in the fact that as the universe is taken back to the point of the Big Bang and all the energy and matter is compressed into a singularity, all of our understanding of physical and mathematical rules fall apart as numbers move towards infinity. There are also fundamental questions about what caused the big bang in the first place, or what existed (if anything), before the big bang.
The concept of inflation was especially controversial to a growing community of physicists, as it directly implied that during this period the universe was growing at faster than the speed of light, which is tantamount to heresy in the world of physics.
While some questions will continue to be strongly debated, the evidence discovered at BICEP2 for gravitational waves does essentially prove the theory of inflation to be true. This gives physicists a powerful set of data with which to refine our theories about how fundamental forces and particles interact.
What do you think the implications of this discovery is? How o you feel about us getting closer to understanding the history of the universe? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to use the form below to sign up for our weekly innovation and creativity insights.