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Scientists observe cosmic inflation and quantum gravity in the Big Bang


March 17, 2014

The BICEP2 facility at the South Pole has discovered compelling evidence for quantized gravity and cosmic inflation (Photo: Steffen Richter / Harvard University)

The BICEP2 facility at the South Pole has discovered compelling evidence for quantized gravity and cosmic inflation (Photo: Steffen Richter / Harvard University)

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In a discovery that has profound implications for our understanding about the beginnings of the universe, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics this morning announced evidence of so-called primordial B-modes in the cosmic microwave background (CMB). These B-modes directly show quantum gravitational waves originating during the inflationary period of cosmic evolution, from about 10-36 to 10-32 seconds after the Big Bang, and give us a direct view of physical processes taking place at 1016 GeV – a trillion times more energetic than particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider.

BICEP2 is a project to study the polarization of the CMB, which uses a telescope located near the South Pole. The CMB cannot be studied in any detail from most locations on the Earth's surface, primarily due to absorption of microwaves by water vapor in the air. The South Pole is at an altitude of about 3 km (10,000 ft), and has winter temperatures of about -60C (-72F), making this the driest environment on the planet and the closest thing to a space-based telescope. The patch of sky measured by the 10-inch BICEP2 telescope, which is sensitive to radiation with a frequency of 150 GHz, can be observed 24/7 all year long, leading to incredibly sensitive measurements of the CMB polarization.

B-mode polarization is the twisty part of the pattern of CMB polarization. To generate B-modes requires quantum gravitational waves from the earliest moments of the Universe. The process of cosmic inflation converts quantum gravitational fluctuations (gravitons) into long wavelength gravitational waves that generate the observed B-modes.

As seen in the figure above, the observed B-modes in the cosmic microwave background are much stronger than expected from a simple model without primordial gravitational waves. The strength of the B-modes reflects that about 20 percent of the primordial excitations are in the form of quantum gravitational fluctuations.

A treasure trove of fundamental cosmological and physics information can be gathered from study of these CMB B-modes:

  • Direct detection of gravitational waves
  • Viewing the process of cosmic inflation
  • Ultra-high energy 10^16 GeV physical processes
  • Pinning down inflation models
  • The gravitational field is quantized
  • Symmetry properties of quantum gravity

Assuming they are correct, the BICEP2 observations clearly represent a massively historic advance in fundamental physics. Many open questions are already answered, such as the quantization of gravity, and there is an opportunity to study physics nearly at the Planck scale, something previously thought impossible. To gain understanding about the beginnings of the universe and about quantum gravity, no single set of observations have ever contained so much new information. Watching the details from such observations unfold will be as exciting and profound as the early days of quantum mechanics and relativity theory.

Source: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson

Second that, this is why I read Gizmag everyday. Amidst all the supercar and smartgadget clutter, sometimes there is news like this. Thank you Brian!


This is amazing news. Stunning!

You can keep articles about smart phones etc.

Brian's physics articles are the real deal EPIC.

Thx Brian


I still have a problem with it. One piece of my mind says "If all this stuff was together hot and dense, and then BANG, it expands, the radiation would have overtaken it all".. unless..

The other part of my mind says "You have to have the faith (that word!) that BANG suddenly placed all this stuff so far apart, that 14 billion years later, the view of it all finally arrives with us, and the speed of the radiation is a law temporarily suspended so this can happen, but thereafter is applied as a rigid fact of the universe.

So with all that taken as a "given" we now have confirmation of primordial CMB-B modes. I am impressed! I have to be. More so perhaps than folk in the past were by Tycho Brahe's "confirmation" of his model of the movement celestial bodies, shown to be so by extremely accurate measurements taken by his wife, using a huge quadrant. He could predict eclipses!

I note Brian uses the phrase "so-called". CMB-B modes might well be expensively obtained physical fact, but I cannot help yearning for a better fairy story explaining how they got there in the first place!


We are but the fruit of a seed. I wonder how many more seeds were cast about.

That Sentient matter evolved from this, is the most amazing development.

Still doesn't answer the why and how, of where the seed and medium in which it grew, space, came from.

This is but a step in solving the greatest of mysteries. Will that ever happen? Are we capable? Do we have enough time? Doubtful.


What it all boils down to is summed up in the word commenter Graham used, "Faith". We have faith that what scientists tell us is correct. Scientists have faith that their observations upon which they base their theories are correct, then that their experimental results are correct, &c. I'm sure I'm not alone in wondering, "What came before nothing? What was there before the 'Cosmic Egg'? What will come after, if, that is, there is an 'After'?" There will always be speculation and attempts to find out and explain, scientific and otherwise, 'What' is out there for that is in our nature. "Why" that is so is that it is in our very nature to be curious. Otherwise, no scientist would ever doubt the prevailing, majority 'Consensus' of their peers and make new discoveries in any scientific field of endeavor whatsoever.

Myron J. Poltroonian

Just more b.s. couched in techno-babble from the mathematicians. They must be feeling anxious because every real science experiment lately from probes sent to study the comets and moons in our solar system turn up nothing but surprises like a supposedly dirty-snowball explanation of comets e.g. Borrelly: (“It is surprising we saw no water ice” Laurence Soderblom USGS). Temple1, Hartley2 and close examination of dozens of other comet/astroids continue to drive nails in that coffin but today’s cosmologists are loath to admit their theories could possibly be the problem (Einstein forbid!). However, the “treasure trove of fundamental cosmological information” of this current “massively historic advance in fundamental physics” might take a while to shoot down as I don’t expect we will be sending any probes back 13.8 billion years to confirm it anytime soon. I guess it really does come down to faith like the article says. If you believe in big bangs, black holes, dark energy, dark matter and mathematics as the true religion, you must be very excited by this new “discovery”.


If I stare long enough looking at the figure above I see a face, a teddy bear, a butterfly, and some B-modes. The point being that you can see what ever you really want to see. I have never been a fan of the "big bang" for many reasons. The magical faster than the speed of light inflation theory being one of them. The 13.8 billion year ago starting point being another. If there was a big bang it was probably more to the order of 50 billion years ago and it probably has taken something like six generations of stars to forge the heavier elements. With every generation 20% of the stars were to small to go nova and remained burnt out cold cinders. After six generations only about 15% of the stars would be hot enough to be observable. Dark matter is most likely just cold unobservable normal matter. Also given that the observed light and gravitational effects in far away objects are likely distorted by relativistic mass, who knows exactly what we are seeing through this kaleidoscope. Nothing observed billions of light years away is now in the same place or on the same trajectory and very likely no longer exists. Models prove nothing and only have validity if they can be repeated accurately and explain similar events. Those extrapolating a few years of observed data back over billions of years of unknown conditions makes me wonder if those immersed so deeply in the numbers aren't just seeing what they want to see. Maybe some B-modes.


Our current cosmology views the universe as non-biological. I know of no study that has actually examined this so it's entirely possible our cosmology is based on an unexamined assumption. That would help to explain the quasi-religious cul-de-sac of 'in the beginning there was nothing which then exploded'. If the universe is in some way biological that would change everything and explain a great deal.


If all of you like faith so much, why are you reading about scientific discoveries instead of reading your 2000 year-old doctrines? Consider the arrogance it takes to suggest that a bunch of old stories somehow explain our existence entirely, that an intangible being decided to whisper the secrets of the cosmos to you, ya know, just that one time that no one else heard, that these supposed revelations ignored profound ideas from philosophers of prior centuries, that any inclination to disagree is met with an eternity of damnation, and that the creator of everything picked a time in history to send his son so that the only evidence was a series of secondary sources gathered from a world where illiteracy was the norm, most people couldn't count to one hundred, and weren't sure if the sun would be upset that you were also worshiping the moon.

Thanks a lot religious people, just kill progress some more why don't you...

Erik Wilson
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