A “spectacular” discovery that could explain the Big Bang that created the universe and potentially lead to Nobel prizes for the researchers behind it is prompting excitement in the scientific community, concerning the sudden “inflation” rush in growth in the very first moments of cosmic expansion. Inflation as a theory concerns the initial growth of the universe – measured as a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second – fourteen billion years ago, and an American team now says it has identified the lingering remnants of it.
The BICEP2 team, using a telescope pointed through the clear skies at the South Pole, has been hunting for waves of gravitational energy left on the Cosmic Microwave Background, seen as evidence for that sudden Big Bang growth.
According to the researchers, it’s just that “B-mode polarization” that has been identified now. The cosmic gravitational waves themselves are so low as to be impossible to follow, at least using the tools BICEP2 has to play with; however, it can look at a snapshot of waves as they pass through space matter and radiation.
It’s the “density perturbations” left behind by those waves that have people so excited, given that ordinary waves wouldn’t leave the same patterns. In those very early stages, the universe would have grown to something roughly the size of a marble in a fraction of a second.
“Inflation magnifies quantum fluctuations, which exist even in vacuum. The quantum fluctuations in the inflation field itself (“inflaton”) become the density fluctuations seen in the CMB and at much later times in galaxy distributions. During inflation, the quantum fluctuations in gravity (“graviton”) become long wavelength gravitational waves that produced the B-mode we see” BICEP2 team
“Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today” BICEP2 team member Professor John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said of the findings.
The BICEP2 team has released its findings ready for what’s expected to be a huge flurry of investigation, retesting, and attempts to either confirm or confound the CMB energy finding. Around a dozen different teams are hunting for the same B-mode polarization activity.
Next, the researchers say, will be improved data from the Keck Array, along with new polarization results from the Planck satellite.