Evidence of the Big Bang found in a cosmic 'double rainbow'
You should probably read this. It's only potentially one of the most important revelations in physics since Einstein's days.
While you were thinking about where you'll be spending St. Patrick's Day on Monday night, the hard-working folks at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics were sharing the first direct evidence of a concept first put forward by Albert Einstein almost a century ago that helps explain where we -- and everything else in the universe -- come from.
If your list of to-dos and projects doesn't suddenly seem a little less impressive by comparsion, then congratulations! You're a narcissist.
If you want to cut right to it, scientists have spotted the remnants of the until-now-theorized massive, mind-melting exponential expansion of the universe that occurred in the one trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. This evidence comes in the form of gravitational waves that Einstein predicted back in 1916 as part of his theory of general relativity.
These waves, also often described as "ripples in space-time," were detected using a specialized instrument located at the South Pole called BICEP 2 that basically stares into the vast nothingness of space and measures the polarization of the faint background radiation believed to be left over from the Big Bang.
"Our team hunted for a special type of polarization called 'B-modes,' which represents a twisting or 'curl' pattern in the polarized orientations of the ancient light," co-leader Jamie Bock of the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Lab said in a release.
To think of it another way, imagine being able to spot and measure the subtle difference between the two arcs of the most crazy full-on double rainbow ever, which just happens to be left over from the super-intense thunderstorm that created the universe.
If you're still thinking this isn't a big deal, consider that there's already plenty of chatter about a Nobel Prize for what's just been announced. And, of far greater existential importance, consider where these gravitational waves come from. If they were generated by an event during which the entire universe suddenly burst forth from a point that was smaller than an atom, that means the waves we now have evidence for not only originate from the beginning of space and time, but also from a moment in which quantum mechanics (the branch of physics that describes how things work at a sub-atomic scale) and general relativity (which deals with the universe at a much larger scale) must have been working together at the same scale.
In other words, further study of gravitational waves could help resolve the conflicts between relativity and quantum physics you may have heard other physics geeks talk about -- it's sometimes described as a "theory of everything."
At a press conference on Monday, researchers from the team involved in the discovery also pointed to the potential for further research into gravitational waves and the intense cosmic inflation that occurred after the Big Bang to create a "new regime of physics" that could provide new insight into "what is possible at extremely high energies."
"This has been like looking for a needle in a haystack, but instead we found a crowbar," said co-leader Clem Pryke of the University of Minnesota.
There is, of course, the possibility that this research doesn't hold up under the heightened scrutiny it's bound to face in the coming weeks and months, but for the moment, everyone involved seems pretty confident. For a quick visual primer on the discovery, check out the video below.