So how exactly did the universe come into existence? “A recent astronomical measurement recorded in a laboratory at the South Pole is causing scientists to revisit their theories…” writes Don Lincoln, a senior scientist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory:
In the intervening decades [since 1929], observations have only strengthened the case for the Big Bang theory, but they have also made it clear that the theory is incomplete. For instance, in its earliest incarnation, the Big Bang couldn’t explain why the universe was so uniform. Astronomers in the Northern Hemisphere who looked deep into space see the same thing on average as ones that live in the Southern Hemisphere. Traditional Big Bang theory predicts that there should be small differences in temperature, clumpiness of large clusters of galaxies and other properties. But both sides look the same.
However, in 1980, physicist Alan Guth proposed an extension to the theory that could reconcile some of the inconsistencies between theory and observation, including the unexpected uniformity. His extension is called cosmic inflation theory and it claims that in the first moments of the birth of the universe it expanded faster than the speed of light…. However, if inflation is true, we should be able to prove it. Although the universe was once glowing hot, the expansion of the universe has cooled it off and that glow has morphed into microwaves that astronomers have been able to detect since 1964. This relic of the Big Bang is called the cosmic microwave background, or CMB. Inflation theory predicts that the microwaves of the CMB should be polarized…
The CMB can be polarized in two ways: B-modes, which are swirly patterns, and E-modes, which are more of a straight-line pattern. And, if inflation theory is correct, we’d expect to see some mix of B-modes and E-modes, while if it isn’t correct — in other words, if the expansion of the universe did not happen as quickly as the theory suggests — researchers should only see E-modes… Astronomers used a telescope facility called BICEP-3 (short for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) to study the CMB and its polarization. The telescope’s South Pole location, with its altitude of nearly two miles above sea level and incredibly dry air, is an ideal place to conduct this kind of research. BICEP-3 scientists combined their data with measurements at other facilities and found no indication of B-modes originating from the CMB. If B-modes are present in the CMB, they are very small.
So, does that mean that the theory of inflation must be thrown out? No, although the data has disproved some of the simpler theories of inflation, it isn’t sensitive enough to rule out the more complex versions. Still, the failure to observe CMB B-modes is unsettling, causing some scientists to go back to the drawing board.
of this story at Slashdot.