If confirmed, the telltale signature of gravitational waves in the afterglow of the Big Bang will open a new chapter in astronomy, cosmology and physics.
A Nature News story unpacks the landmark finding — announced by a team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 17 March — and examines the strength of the evidence. It includes reactions from theoretical physicist Alan Guth, who proposed the theory of cosmic inflation in 1980.
The finding, by the BICEP2 radio telescope at the South Pole, is actually three discoveries in one: it provides the most direct evidence for the existence of gravitational waves, which were predicted by Einstein; it is the proof of cosmic inflation that physicists had been eagerly awaiting; and it opens a window into the unification of the fundamental forces of nature.
Nature’s special coverage also includes a video, a background explainer describing how rapid expansion produced the ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves, and a Q&A with BICEP2 lead scientist John Kovac, in which he describes how the telescope was able to see effects of the expansion, which occurred just a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang.
The full package can be viewed on the Nature website at: http://www.nature.com/news/1.14884
Rebecca Walton, Nature London
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