The Week in Geek: Big Bang Boom edition

Updated

Have you heard the words “Big Bang”, “inflation”, “gravitational waves” thrown around on the internet at unusually high levels this week? That’s because cosmologists at Harvard University held a press conference on Monday to announce the results of the BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) telescope located at the South Pole.

BICEP2, and its predecessor BICEP1, were designed to measure the polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), the afterglow of the Big Bang. Polarization essentially refers to how light is twisted with respect to the direction it’s traveling. Mathematical models predict a pattern of polarization imprinted on the CMB from a phase of the early Universe called inflation. And when I say early, I mean early: when the Universe was only 10¯³² seconds old - that’s 0.00000000000000000000000000000001 seconds. This imprint is the result of gravitational waves generated in the fabric of space-time by this period of inflation. Long predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity, this is the first observational evidence for gravitational waves so the physics and astronomy communities are understandably excited.

There have been a flood of great explanations of the science behind why this announcement is so significant such as this video by Minute Physics and this one by Nature News. For me though, the most amazing thing to hit the interwebs this week is this video of theoretical physicist, Andrei Linde (a professor at Stanford University and one of the contributors to the theory of inflation), hearing the news. It’s a perfect illustration of how science works: develop a theory, determine what the theory predicts, make observations looking for said predictions, and compare the two. Linde’s (and others’) predictions were just observed - that’s science in action!

More geek from the Universe:

Have a great geeky week! @Summer_Ash

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The Week in Geek: Big Bang Boom edition

Updated