“SPECTACULAR REALIZATION,” young physicist named Alan Guth wrote late one night in 1979 across the top of the page drawing a double box around it marking his discovery of what might have made the universe bang to begin with. A possible hitch in the presumed course of cosmic evolution could have infused space itself with a special energy that exerted a repulsive force, causing the universe to balloon faster than the speed of light for a prodigiously violent instant, smoothing out iron out all the wrinkles and irregularities and solving the paradox like why the heavens look uniform from pole to pole.
Gravitational waves, which are small ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted, are the sounds of our universe. Astronomers have been looking for years for a potential electromagnetic light signal that would accompany or follow the gravitational waves. This signal would allow us to "look through the peephole after hearing the faint knock on the door," and verify that indeed "someone" is there.
As announced today, a team of astronomers led by John M. Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics detected these ripples in the fabric of space-time — gravitational waves — the signature of a universe exploding when it was roughly a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old. These ripples are the long-sought smoking-gun evidence of inflation, proof, Dr. Kovac and his colleagues at CfA say, that Dr. Guth's spectacular realization was correct.
If corroborated, the New York Times says Dr. Kovac’s work "will stand as a landmark in science comparable to the recent discovery of dark energy pushing the universe apart, or of the Big Bang itself. It would open vast realms of time and space and energy to science and speculation.
"Confirming inflation would mean that the universe we see, extending 14 billion light-years in space with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, is only an infinitesimal patch in a larger cosmos whose extent, architecture and fate are unknowable. Moreover, beyond our own universe there might be an endless number of other universes bubbling into frothy eternity, like a pot of pasta water boiling over."
Dr. Kovac and his collaborators, working in an experiment known as Bicep, for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization, reported their results in a scientific briefing at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics today and in a set of papers submitted to The Astrophysical Journal. “With nature, you have to be lucky,” Dr. Kovac said. “Apparently we have been lucky.”
The Daily Galaxy via New York Times and CfA