Echoes of the Big Bang?

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics scientists announce first Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation.

A Team of physicists, cosmologists and astronomers from CFA, Caltech/JPL, Stanford, the University of Minnesota, Graduate students, Post Docs have been looking for the “smoking gun” evidence of “cosmic inflation” immediately after the Big Bang, using a specialized telescope called Bicep2 which is an acronym for the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization. The telescope is at the South Pole.

What is the nature of the Universe? In the first second of the “Big Bang” is it possible that the Universe expanded exponentially? Was all matter the size of a tennis ball one moment and beyond what we can see with our telescopes today the next? Who are we and where did we come from?

As recently as 400 years ago conventional wisdom held that Earth was center of the universe. It was heresy to believe otherwise

100 years ago Albert Einstein brought forth his theory of relativity, space time, energy. Part of Einstein’s relativity says that infinitely small gravitational waves ripple through space and time.

In the 1920′s Friedman, Lemaltre and others developed a model which said all matter and radiation in the Universe originated in a huge explosion at a finite point in the past.

Since antiquity we’ve been observing the cosmos but it was only relatively recently, in the past 100 years or so, we began to understand what we see in the sky, the stars exist in our galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy (100,000 light years across) and the millions of other galaxies we see in the night sky are outside the Milky Way. The nearest neighbor is the Andromeda galaxy which is 2.2 million light years distant

Edwin Hubbell further defined cosmology in the 1920′s with his observations that the universe is expanding and the further away distant galaxies are the faster they are moving. This supported the so called “Big Bang” theory.

In 1948 Bondi, Gold and Hoyle proposed the “Steady State Theory” in which the Universe had no beginning, will never end and appears the same at all points and all times.

In 1965 two Bell Telephone lab engineers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were experimenting with a huge microwave dish in New Jersey. They were working on the Echo satellite program and using the antenna to bounce signals off the Echo satellites. Penzias and Wilson heard a noise signal they couldn’t account for wherever they pointed the dish. They thought there was a problem in their receiver, then the culprit was thought to be pidgeon guano in the dish.

This mysterious noise turned out to be what is now called the Cosmic Microwave Background. The CMB is “echo” of the primordial fireball, remnants of the light and heat generated by the Big Bang. We see the CMB everywhere, it’s in the noise you see in your old analog TV.

In 1980 Alan Guth, a cosmologist at MIT, proposed the theory of inflation. The idea that the early universe experienced a terrific, exponential, burst of expansion. Guth’s theory proposed that the primordial soup expanded from about the size of a tennis ball to the edge of what we could see with a telescope in less than a second. Inflation happened at 10 -34 second after the Big Bang. That’s a decimal point followed by 33 zeroes and a 1.

In the late 1990′s cosmologists and physicists proposed that if inflation did indeed occur primoridal gravity waves might have left a “footprint” on the CMB in the form of polarized waves.

In 2006 Bicep1 went online at the South Pole and it was replaced in 2009 by Bicep 2.

The last piece in the puzzle of Einstein’s relativity concerns the existence of “gravity waves”. This brings us to the Grand Unified Theory which says the four fundamental forces in the universe, Gravity, the electromagnetic force and the weak and strong nuclear forces were unified together as one at the beginning of time.

If the gravity waves exist it was thought that they would leave “swirly” polarization lines on the CMB. This is called “B mode polarization”.

Do gravity wave exist? Was there inflation and if so, how powerful was it?

Read the Bicep2 team press release

I was interviewed for Clear Channel Media’s “Kentucky Focus” program which aired March 29-30 on radio stations throughout Kentucky. Hear that discussion below.

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