First Discovery of Gravitational Waves
Scientists studying readings from the BICEP 2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2) telescope at the South Pole have discovered direct evidence of gravitational waves, the first such discovery in history. Essentially ripples in space-time, gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity. Their discovery offers new evidence of how our universe came into being, supporting the long-hypothesized Big Bang Theory.
A team of scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysists, MIT, the University of Minnesota, CalTech, and Stanford University analyzed data collected by BICEP 2 between 2010 and 2012. The BICEP 2 team studied the polarization of cosmic microwave background radiation—light left over from the early universe—specifically analyzed the direction the electric field points across the sky.
By identifying what is known as “B-mode” polarization, they discovered curling patterns in the polarized orientations of light from the ancient universe. This unique pattern could only be created by gravitational waves, the study states.
In the fabric of space-time, scientists believe that quantum fluctuations create tiny ripples. By looking at space-time on the smallest-possible scale, one could, in theory, see these ripples. No microscope has yet been created that can see something so small.
However, through inflation caused by the rapid expansion of the universe, some of these infinitesimal ripples have been blown up into significantly larger gravitational waves that can now be seen—with the aid of BICEP 2—in cosmic microwave background radiation. Essentially, gravitational waves are aftershocks of the Big Bang. The distance between the peaks and troughs of one of these gravitational waves could span billions of light years.
At a press conference on Monday, 17 March 2014, University of Minnesota associate professor Clem Pryke said of the team’s findings, “We have, for the first time, a detection for the mythical gravity wave signal that people have been searching for so hard, for so long.”
If the team’s findings can be confirmed, verified, and replicated, the data should provide conclusive evidence of the Big Bang, the nigh-instantaneous expansion of the known universe, nearly 14 billion years ago, from the size of a single atom to its now seemingly infinite dimensions.
- “Big Bang Breakthrough Announced; Gravitational Waves Detected” http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/17/tech/innovation/big-bang-gravitational-waves/
- “What ‘Aha!’ Really Sounds Like; the Back Story of Detecting Gravitational Waves” http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/science/2014/03/18/what-aha-really-sounds-like-back-story-detecting-gravitational-waves/f1RuAhwNJLT6bYNDdicCaI/story.html
- “One Step Closer to Proving Big Bang Theory” http://www.euronews.com/2014/03/19/one-step-closer-to-proving-big-bang-theory/