If Hawking and Hertog are successful, they would provide fresh theoretical underpinning for cosmic observations that have not yet been confirmed — as Hawking notes in his post. The scientists behind the BICEP2 experiment reported seeing evidence of primordial gravitational waves last year, but they had to pull back from that claim after other researchers said the readings could have been due to the polarizing effect of galactic dust rather than the aftershocks of the big bang.
Such gravitational waves would help to confirm the theory of inflation, which says the universe took a gigantic expansionary jump in the first instant of its existence. When it was first proposed, inflationary big-bang theory was highly controversial — but now most cosmologists say it’s the best way to explain some of the more puzzling twists in the mostly smooth structure of the universe.
This isn’t the first time Hawking has stirred things up. For the world’s best-known scientist, shaking up the cosmos comes with the territory.
Back in 2006, Hawking and Hertog suggested that our universe has “top-down” quantum characteristics, in which all the potential time lines for the future help determine what happened in the past. Last year, Hawking made waves again when he claimed that “there are no black holes,” at least in the way the term is popularly used.
Speaking of waves, the BICEP2 team is still working with scientists from the European Space Agency’s Planck mission to reduce the uncertainties surrounding the original claims about gravitational waves.