This morning, at 10:45 am EST, John Kova, of the Harvard - Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and leader of the BICEP2 collaboration announced, their team has discovered the First Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation. If their findings hold up, they have detected a signal marker from the first fractions of a second after our universe was created, and evidence for the "inflation" variation in the Big Bang Theory, i.e. a big frigging deal! Or as Kova more modestly notes, "(d)etecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today."
I have the primary source announcement, but to convey the spectacular sense of excitement this news has created in the scientific community my first quotes will come from Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, of the BBC News Cosmic inflation: 'Spectacular' discovery hailed
British scientist Dr Jo Dunkley, who has been searching through data from the European Planck space telescope for a B-mode signal, commented: "I can't tell you how exciting this is. Inflation sounds like a crazy idea, but everything that is important, everything we see today - the galaxies, the stars, the planets - was imprinted at that moment, in less than a trillionth of a second. If this is confirmed, it's huge."
One of those pioneers, Prof Alan Guth from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the BBC: "I have been completely astounded. I never believed when we started that anybody would ever measure the non-uniformities of the CMB, let alone the polarisation, which is now what we are seeing.
"I think it is absolutely amazing that it can be measured and also absolutely amazing that it can agree so well with inflation and also the simplest models of inflation - nature did not have to be so kind and the theory didn't have to be right."
Most people are now familiar with the Big Bang theory that just over 14 billion years ago all the mass and energy in the known universe burst into existence and expanded exponentially until cooling off to the point that photons, quarks, atoms , and all matter could form, which then started clumping together by gravity to form stars, planets and everything we know of today. But, in the first fractions of a second the expansion seems to have been extra fast, called cosmic inflation.
The aim has been to try to find a residual marker for "inflation" - the idea that the cosmos experienced an exponential growth spurt in its first trillionth, of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. ... Theory holds that this would have taken the infant Universe from something unimaginably small to something about the size of a marble.
Going back to the BICEP2 Press Release from Harvard :
Researchers from the BICEP2 collaboration today announced the first direct evidence for this cosmic inflation. Their data also represent the first images of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time. These waves have been described as the "first tremors of the Big Bang." Finally, the data confirm a deep connection between quantum mechanics and general relativity.
"Our team hunted for a special type of polarization called 'B-modes,' which represents a twisting or 'curl' pattern in the polarized orientations of the ancient light," said co-leader Jamie Bock (Caltech/JPL).
Gravitational waves squeeze space as they travel, and this squeezing produces a distinct pattern in the cosmic microwave background. Gravitational waves have a "handedness," much like light waves, and can have left- and right-handed polarizations.
"The swirly B-mode pattern is a unique signature of gravitational waves because of their handedness. This is the first direct image of gravitational waves across the primordial sky," said co-leader Chao-Lin Kuo (Stanford/SLAC). ...
When asked to comment on the implications of this discovery, Harvard theorist Avi Loeb said, "This work offers new insights into some of our most basic questions: Why do we exist? How did the universe begin? These results are not only a smoking gun for inflation, they also tell us when inflation took place and how powerful the process was."
This project is funded by the National Science Foundation, the Keck Foundation, and the Moore Foundation, and is the kind of research our Republican friends want to see less of.
Technical details and journal papers can be found on the BICEP2 release website: http://bicepkeck.org
Will you remember where you were at 10:45 a.m. this morning?
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