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Cosmic inflation no longer theory, now a fact

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'asue!an Mukunth
(hare ) Comment *+, ) print ) -.
-/0 MY(-01Y2 3hysicist %lan &uth, who hypothesise cosmic inflation was trying to
answer the 4uestion why istant parts of the uni!erse were similar e!en though they
couln5t ha!e share a common history#
%3 -/0 MY(-01Y2 3hysicist %lan &uth, who hypothesise cosmic inflation was trying
to answer the 4uestion why istant parts of the uni!erse were similar e!en though they
couln5t ha!e share a common history#
-637C(
science an technology
0!ience of ancient gra!itational wa!es on the cosmic microwa!e backgroun was
foun
6n March 18, the most important ay for cosmology in o!er a ecae, the /ar!ar-
(mithsonian Centre for %strophysics mae an announcement that swept physicists off
their feet# (cientists publishe the first pieces of e!ience that a popular but unteste
theory calle cosmic inflation is right# -his has significant implications for the fiel of
cosmology#
-he results also highlight a eep connection between the theories of relati!ity an
4uantum mechanics# -his has been the sub9ect of a century-ol 4uest in physics#
Cosmic inflation was first hypothesi:e by %merican physicist %lan &uth# /e was trying
to answer the 4uestion why istant parts of the uni!erse were similar e!en though they
couln;t ha!e share a common history# 7n 1<=0, he propose a raical solution# /e
theori:e that 10->+ secons after the ?ig ?ang happene, all matter an raiation was
uniformly packe into a !olume the si:e of a proton#
?y the time it was 10->> secons ol, its !olume ha increase by 108= times @ a
perio calle the inflationary epoch# %fter this e!ent, the uni!erse was almost as big as
an orange, e"paning to this ay but at a slower pace# Ahile this theory was poise to
resol!e many cosmological issues, it was ifficult to pro!e# -o get this far, scientists from
the Centre use the ?7C032 telescope#
-hrough the (outh 3ole;s ry atmosphere, ?7C03 *?ackgroun 7maging of Cosmic
0"tragalactic 3olari:ation, 2 stuies the 1>#B billion-year ol resiual energy of the ?ig
?ang calle the cosmic microwa!e backgroun *CM?,# -his is a fiel of microwa!e
raiation that permeates the uni!erse# -he CM? consists of electric *0, an magnetic *?,
fiels, calle moes#
-he ?-moe patterns, in particular, ha!e unergone some changes as the uni!erse
age# 7t is susceptible to gra!itational effects# Cor e"ample, the 0-moe can be twiste
by the strong gra!itational pulls of large gala"ies into the ?-moe#
/owe!er, scientists were looking for effects of what are calle gra!itational wa!es#
-hese are wa!es of purely gra!itational energy capable of stretching or s4uee:ing the
space-time continuum#
-he inflationary epoch is thought to ha!e set off gra!itational wa!es rippling through the
continuum# 7n the process, they etche their effects on the ?-moe, !isible toay as a
curling pattern in the magnetic fiel#
-o fin this, a team of raio-astronomers le by Dohn Eo!ac from the /ar!ar-
(mithsonian Centre for %strophysics use the ?7C032 telescope from 2010 to 2012# 7t
was e4uippe with a lens of aperture 2+ cm, scanning an effecti!e area of two to 10
times the with of the Moon#
-hen, they use the ifferent atasets they; collecte to subtract unwante signals from
one another until they were left with one that showe only the amount of curl# 3rof#
Eo!ac sai in a statement, FGetecting this signal is one of the most important goals in
cosmology toay#H
-he curl ue to gra!itational wa!es was confirme with a statistical significance of B#2
sigma @ sufficient to claim e!ience @ but only in the part of the sky they mappe# -he
team has set a significance of 2#8 sigma for the rest of the sky, an future work will focus
on strengthening this#
(cientists were also looking for a ratio calle the tensor-to-scalar ratio# 7t enotes the
amplitue of the gra!itational wa!es# 7ts !alue has been foun to be 0#20 plus or minus
0#0B# %lthough theoretical preictions ha pegge it between 0 an 0#>, scientists ha
e"pecte it to be less than 0#2# -he higher !alue means the ancient gra!itational wa!es
were more powerful than e"pecte, an coul e"plain why gala"ies forme so rapily
after the inflation#
Iow, astrophysicists from other obser!atories aroun the worl will try to replicate
?7C032;s results#
7t is notable that gra!itational wa!es are a feature of the theories of relati!ity, an cosmic
inflation is a feature of 4uantum mechanics# -hus, the ?7C032 results show that the two
pre!iously e"clusi!e theories can be combine at a funamental le!el# -his throws open
the oor for physicists to e"plore a unifie theory of nature in new light#