by Rob Boylan
No, not that terrible TV show that you all watch for some horrifying reason.
No, not "God said Bang and there it was."
The actual Big Bang.
The creation of life, the Universe and everything, as Douglas Adams would put it.
Researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, using a telescope at the South Pole called BICEP (great name, nerdlingers), have detected waves in the cosmic background radiation that cosmology models have said should be there, but have not been detectable until now.
The cosmic background radiation is the leftover energy from the Big Bang, which is travelling outward in a uniform pace in all directions in the Universe. It is the edge of the universe. By measuring it, we can ascertain how old the Universe is (13.7 billion years), among other things.
The waves were theorized by Albert Einstein in the Theory of General Relativity and further refined by a Dr. Alan Guth in 1979, whose notebook detailing his thoughts was headed, "SPECTACULAR REALIZATION". Quoth the New York Times:
[Guth realized] a potential 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 swell faster than the speed of light for a prodigiously violent instant.
If true, the rapid engorgement would solve paradoxes like why the heavens look uniform from pole to pole and not like a jagged, warped mess. The enormous ballooning would iron out all the wrinkles and irregularities. Those particles were not missing, but would be diluted beyond detection, like spit in the ocean.
The waves are the first shimmers of life from the hot, dense, fledgling Universe, created in the first 10-35th of a second after the Big Bang started. How big in this news? Quoth Time:
“When I got the call,” says Marc Kamionkowski, a theorist at Johns Hopkins University who wasn’t involved in the research, “I had to ask if it was real. To me, this is bigger than the Higgs boson.” If it’s confirmed by other groups, says Avi Loeb, chair of the Harvard astronomy department and also not a participant in the research, “it’s worth a Nobel.”
And I thought the astronomy course I took would never have any practical applications.