For decades now cosmologists have widely believed that the cosmic inflationary model of the big bang is correct. However, actually proving that has been one of the most sought-after observations in modern Physics. Now astrophysicists have found definitive proof that cosmic inflation helped shape the universe during the earliest moment following the big bang.
This week the scientists of the BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) collaboration group announced that the first-ever direct evidence of cosmic inflation has been found. The new findings could help researchers come closer to establishing the fabled "theory of everything" that might link quantum mechanics and general relativity. The data is set to appear in the journal Nature.
"Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today" said John Kovac, head of the BICEP2 collaboration. "A lot of work by a lot of people has led up to this point,"
Through BICEP and Keck Array experiments performed with the use of the BICEP2 telescope at the south pole, Kovac and his team were able to measure slight variations in the cosmic microwave background (the radiation left over from the big bang). These gravity waves show how cosmic inflation influenced the density of the universe at just fractions of a second after the big bang.
The gravity waves were found by observing the polarization of the light in the cosmic microwave background. The light left over from the beginning of the universe would have been polarized a certain way (B-mode polarization) by inflation. The signals they found ended up being even stronger than the BICEP2 team expected. The researchers spent three years confirming their observations before this week's announcement.
"The swirly B-mode pattern is a unique signature of gravitational waves because of their handedness," said Chao-Lin Kuo, a co-leader of BICEP2. "This is the first direct image of gravitational waves across the primordial sky,"
Confirmation of cosmic inflation indicates that cosmologists are on the right track in their research into the beginning of the universe. It also means that the search for the dark energy involved in inflation is not in vain. For many researchers involved in studying the big bang, this week's new is only the beginning of many new discoveries to come.
In the meantime, the confirmation of cosmic inflation is widely expected to result in Noble Prizes for those involved.
Image via the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics