In 1916, Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity. This theory, working with the underpinnings of the big bang, postulated that massive objects “bend” space-time and that this curvature is directly proportional to the energy and acceleration of the object itself.
While many scientists of the time and since have felt that Einstein’s theory of general relativity was and is most certainly true, there were still untested aspects of the theory that scientists had not been able to prove… until now.
Yesterday, scientists running the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP) 2 experiment at the South Pole discovered a key piece of evidence that not only supports and confirms Einstein’s theory of relativity, but also affirms the “inflation” theory of the big bang.
The theory of inflation was first postulated in 1980 by Alan Guth and was an update to the traditional big bang theory, which pictured the universe as a rapidly expanding gas ball. If this traditional version of the big bang was true, however, space-time should have been more curved and more chaotic in nature.
Instead, Guth’s theory of inflation hypothesized that the universe began as a single point smaller than an electron and expanded at a rate faster than the speed of light; This growth occurred in 10 to the minus 35 seconds after the birth of the universe, or in one trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second.
— Bill Nye (@TheScienceGuy) March 17, 2014
While the theory of inflation would explain why the universe was so “flat” and uniform in structure, no scientist had yet been able to prove that the universe did expand in such a way until yesterday’s discovery.
What the scientists running the BICEP2 experiment discovered was a unique polarization of light known as Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMB) – light from 380,000 years after the beginning of the universe. This polarization, known as “B-mode” polarization, is a curling of the CMB that can only be caused by gravitational waves.
And these gravitational waves could have only been caused by a massive and extremely rapid explosion, such as the one put forth by the big bang theory.
“This is really exciting. We have made the first direct image of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time across the primordial sky, and verified a theory about the creation of the whole universe,” stated Chao-Lin Kuo, co-leader of the BICEP2 experiment from Stanford.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the discovery of these gravitational waves and the subsequent verification of the “inflation” model of the universe supports a multiverse theory, something scientists have been working toward now for decades:
“It’s hard to build models of inflation that don’t lead to a multiverse. It’s not impossible, so I think there’s still certainly research that needs to be done. But most models of inflation do lead to a multiverse, and evidence for inflation will be pushing us in the direction of taking [the idea of a] multiverse seriously,” stated Guth.
Image via Wikimedia Commons