Experts cast doubt on Big Bang discovery

2014-06-14 22:54
This artist's rendering shows the Voyager spacecraft which will bid adieu to the solar system and enter a new realm of space. (Nasa, AP)

This artist's rendering shows the Voyager spacecraft which will bid adieu to the solar system and enter a new realm of space. (Nasa, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington - Astrophysicists are casting doubt on what just recently was deemed a breakthrough in confirming how the universe was born: the observation of gravitational waves that apparently rippled through space right after the Big Bang.

If proven to be correctly identified, these waves - predicted in Albert Einstein's theory of relativity - would confirm the rapid and violent growth spurt of the universe in the first fraction of a second marking its existence, 13.8 billion years ago.

The apparent first direct evidence of such so-called cosmic inflation - a theory that the universe expanded by 100 trillion trillion times in barely the blink of an eye - was announced in March by experts at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics.

The detection was made with the help of a telescope called BICEP2, stationed at the South Pole.

"Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today," John Kovac, leader of the BICEP2 collaboration at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, said at the time.

The telescope targeted a specific area known as the "Southern Hole" outside the galaxy where there is little dust or extra galactic material to interfere with what humans could see.

By observing the cosmic microwave background, or a faint glow left over from the Big Bang, the scientists said small fluctuations gave them new clues about the conditions in the early universe.

The gravitational waves rippled through the universe 380 000 years after the Big Bang, and these images were captured by the telescope, they claimed.

If confirmed by other experts, some said the work could be a contender for the Nobel Prize.

'Serious flaws'

But not everyone is convinced of the findings, with scepticism surfacing recently on blogs and scientific US journals such as Science and New Scientist.

Paul Steinhardt, director of Princeton University's Centre for Theoretical Science, addressed the issue in the prestigious British journal Nature in early June.

"Serious flaws in the analysis have been revealed that transform the sure detection into no detection," Steinhardt wrote, citing an independent analysis of the BICEP2 findings.

That analysis was carried out by David Spergel, a theoretical astrophysicist who is also at Princeton.

Spergel queried whether what the BICEP2 telescope picked up really came from the first moments of the universe's existence.

"What I think, it is not certain whether polarised emissions come from galactic dust or from the early universe," he told AFP.

"We know that galactic dust emits polarised radiations, we see that in many areas of the sky, and what we pointed out in our paper is that pattern they have seen is just as consistent with the galactic dust radiations as with gravitational waves."

When using just one frequency, as these scientists did, it is impossible to distinguish between gravitational waves and galactic emissions, Spergel added.

The question will likely be settled in the coming months when another, competing group, working with the European Space Agency's Planck telescope, publishes its results.

That telescope observes a large part of the sky - versus the BICEP2's two percent - and carries out measurements in six frequencies, according to Spergel.

"They should revise their claim," he said of the BICEP2 team. "I think in retrospect, they should have been more careful about making a big announcement."

He went on to say that, contrary to normal procedure, there was no external check of the data before it was made public.

Philipp Mertsch of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University said data from Planck and another team should be able to "shed more light on whether it is primordial gravitational waves or dust in the Milky Way".

"Let me stress, however, that what is leaving me [and many of my colleagues] unsatisfied with the state of affairs: If it is polarised dust emission, where is it coming from?" he said in an email.

Kovac, an associate professor of astronomy and physics at Harvard, declined to respond to requests for comment.

Another member of the team, Jamie Bock of the California Institute of Technology, also declined to be interviewed.

At the time of their announcement in March, the scientists said they spent three years analysing their data to rule out any errors.

Read more on:    space
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
308 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Joburg hot spots for cocktails, craft beer, tapas and wine!

It’s the season to be jolly – so we’ve rounded up some new Joburg hot spots!

 
 

I love summer.24

Christmas lingerie to make this festive season the best one ever!
13 things you might not know about Disneyland
The craziest deaths of 2014
How to make this a sensual, sexy summer!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There is so much going on around you and inside your head. You may want to take your ideas to the next level. Romance may be...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.