Update 12:05 p.m. — The team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has announced they've found "The First Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation." The scientists say that after three years of research and staring at a patch of sky, they have found and observed gravitational waves (a distinctive twist in the oldest light detectable with telescopes, the BBC reports) that are the "smoking gun" of cosmic inflation and "echoes" of the Big Bang.
The scientists have data that represents the first images of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time. In the plainest English possible: these waves have been described as the "first tremors of the Big Bang" and were created fractions of a second after our universe came to be. They were part of Albert Einstein's General Theory of relativity, but have never been seen. And physicists explain that these waves need a source (they just don't happen out of nowhere), and cosmic inflation appears to be that source.
"Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today," lead researcher John Kovac, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a statement.
Harvard theorist Avi Loeb explained: "These results are not only a smoking gun for inflation, they also tell us when inflation took place and how powerful the process was."
Original: The hot science rumor of the day involves a telescope called BICEP, primordial gravitational waves, and a discovery that might be as significant as the Higgs particle. The scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics are keeping mum about the discovery, but the science community is speculating that they might be ready to announce that they've observed "gravitational waves" with a telescope called the BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization). "The rumor is that BICEP2 - a small-scale experiment down at the South Pole measuring the polarization of the CMB - pinned down the primordial B-mode," Résonaances, a particle physics blog, reported.
That definition isn't exactly helpful to people who are unfamiliar with the primordial B-mode or primordial gravitational waves. But according to The Guardian, these waves are an "echo of the Big Bang", and known as the last "untested prediction of Albert Einstein's General Theory of relativity." In plain English: these waves could give scientists a better picture of how the universe was born and could solidify the idea of cosmic/eternal inflation — an extension of the Big Bang theory.
"Gravitational waves have not yet been observed, but are a prediction from general relativity. Therefore, such a discovery would be on the same level of significance as the discovery of the Higgs particle," Shaun Hotchkiss, scientist who studies Cosmology and High Energy Physics, wrote on the Trenches of Discovery physics blog. "[T]he potential significance of such a result goes further because these primordial gravitational waves would need a source. The theory of cosmological inflation would/could be such a source," Hotchkiss wrote.
If the rumors are true, today's findings would be a Nobel Prize-worthy discovery. "Jesus, wow! I'll be taking next week off," a cosmologist at the University of London told The Guardian, giving us some perspective of just how big this is. The announcement is happening at noon (EDT) today. You can follow along here at 11:55 a.m.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.