Aug. 26, 2014, 2:17 p.m.View more articles
Back in March, Twig Newsdesk reported on a story that was taking the world of cosmology by storm. A team of scientists studying data from a remote microwave telescope called BICEP2 announced that they appeared to have found something remarkable: minute traces of a signal produced moments after the Big Bang.
Their discovery supported hypotheses made decades ago by astrophysicists Alan Guth and Andrei Linde, who proposed that, in the first fractions of a second after it came into existence, the Universe expanded exponentially before dropping to a slower rate of expansion. This concept – known as inflation theory – helped to reconcile certain puzzling aspects of the existing Big Bang model, and BICEP2’s findings seemed to offer the first experimental proof that the theory was accurate. Consequently, it was viewed as a major scientific milestone, and Nobel prizes were predicted for those involved.
However enthusiasm has since cooled, following a pair of new studies that cast doubt on the initial report’s conclusions. After reviewing the research, independent academics at Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study discovered flaws in the original findings, and concluded that the evidence was not strong enough to constitute a clear breakthrough. It turns out that the signal that caused so much excitement may in fact have been nothing more than interference caused by ordinary space dust, and this has forced the BICEP2 scientists to revise their original claims. It’s a disappointing development, but the search for new evidence will continue – and hopefully next time, the claims will stand up to close inspection.
Watch Nuclear Fusion: The Hot and Cold Science to find out about another scientific breakthrough that turned out not to be quite as important as first thought…