June 19, 2014

BICEP2 researchers publish nuanced account of stunning patterns in the microwave sky

Possibly primordial gravitational waves, but galactic dust not ruled out

College Park, MD - Following a thorough peer-review process, the researchers who previously announced the detection of B-mode polarization in a patch of the microwave sky have published their findings today in the journal Physical Review Letters (PDF available at http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.112.241101). The researchers provide some evidence that the signals they have found may be the result of gravitational waves from the earliest moments of the universe's existence and thus might constitute the first observation of phenomena from the rapid expansion of the universe known as the inflationary period.

The results from the BICEP2 experiment, the second generation of the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization experiment, are controversial in the astrophysics community, with various experts proposing that the signal may be an artifact resulting from distortions created by Galactic dust. The BICEP2 collaboration addresses these claims directly, changing, removing and adding some analyses, but they acknowledge that they cannot rule out the possibility that dust may be partly or entirely responsible for the gravitational-wave-like signals. They anticipate that forthcoming data will resolve this question about their potentially groundbreaking research.

Further information about the significance of the BICEP2 research is available in a special edition of the publication Physics (physics.aps.org), including a Viewpoint article by Lawrence Krauss, a Physics Focus overview by journalist David Lindley discussing a selection of recent Physical Review Letters theory articles on the wide-ranging implications of the finding for cosmology, particle physics and even dark-matter models, and an Editorial by the PRL Editors.

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