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BICEP2: Pinning Down Cosmic Inflation

28 Apr 2014, 17:52 UTC
BICEP2: Pinning Down Cosmic Inflation
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Last month, the scientific collaboration working with the BICEP2 telescope in Antarctica (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) published a surprising first result: after three years of deep microwave imaging of 6% of the sky, they may have found the smoking gun* of the theory of inflation. That smoking gun consists of a series of ripples or fluctuations of the microwave polarization in this part of the sky. These ripples signify that within the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of second, the universe underwent a rapid, exponential spatial inflation, making its temperature and density nearly homogenous, corresponding to the large-scale density-uniformity of our own observable universe today. Because the universe started out on such a small spatial scale before inflation, quantum alternations in the fabric of spacetime were present. As the universe rapidly inflated in this 10-32 second of time, those alterations were magnified and manifested themselves as large-scale gravitational waves. These gravitational waves made their imprint in the cosmic microwave background, that image of the hot early universe we see today, in that same background’s polarization information. (Just like ordinary polarized light you can see by turning your head 90 degrees while wearing polarized glasses, radio waves, including microwave radio ...

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