The Big Bang Reality?
The Big Bang Theory has always been just that: a theory, though a highly educated one that was just supremely difficult to substantiate. But that might now have changed…
The simple science behind the theory is that the universe was once very small, miniscule even, and very hot. Suddenly, about 14 million years ago, it started rapidly expanding (imagine a billowing smoke cloud when something explodes, hence the name “Big Bang”), and cooling. In turn, this resulted in atoms being created, which then led to the creation of stars and galaxies and everything else we know is in the universe, including ourselves.
Obviously, it is very difficult to prove something that happened that long ago, but that hasn’t stopped the scientists from trying. And now they may have had their “Eureka!” moment.
On Monday 17 March, some scientists made an announcement which, if the evidence holds up under the inevitable intense scrutiny, is evidence of the universe rapidly spreading out less than a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang ‘banged’, meaning the it must have occurred.
The “proof” lies in gravitational waves, the same ones that Einstein predicted in his general theory of relativity, which have been “seen” by an immensely powerful telescope at the South Pole called the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation 2, or BICEP2 for short. BICEP2 studied the particles of light called photons that had travelled to Earth from the time when the universe what that tiny hot ball we mentioned earlier.
Stanford University Physicist Professor Kent Irwin explained that the universe expanding at the time of the Big Bang is referred to as “inflation”, and that everything in the universe was smaller than an electron before the inflation. Then, during inflation, everything expanded “at faster than the speed of light”, which means the gravitational waves would have been propelled right across the ever-expanding universe at the time. These waves would have been billions of light years long if measured between the peaks and dips of the wave.
“We have, for the first time, detection for the mythical gravity wave signal that people have been looking for so hard, for so long,” explained project co-leader Professor Clement Pryke from the University of Minnesota. “This has been like looking for a needle in a haystack, but instead, we found a crowbar.”
The discovery is being called one of the most important scientific findings of all time, with the scientists behind it very likely candidates for the Nobel Prize. But first it needs to endure the scrutiny and speculation that is sure to follow for the next weeks, months, and probably even years.
Professor Andrei Linde, also from Stanford, helped develop the initial inflation theory, and that the BICEP2 results are something he has been waiting for his whole professional career. “If this is true,” he said, “this is a moment of understanding of nature of such a magnitude that it just overwhelms…. These gravitational waves are the aftershocks of the Big Bang.”