The Most Exciting Sentence I’ve Read This Decade…

…Would be this one:

 We find an excess of B -mode power over the base lensed- CDM expectation in the range 30 < ` <  150, inconsistent with the null hypothesis at a significance of >  5 δ.

That’s from the abstract to this paper, released yesterday, in which the team using the BICEP microwave detector at the South Pole reports on their analysis of three years of data taken from 2010-2012.

So what’s that all about?  It’s the best evidence yet that a fundamental pillar of Big Bang cosmology is correct, that a concept named inflation does in fact describe what happened within the first instant of the formation of our universe.  Here’s how Alan Guth, the inventor of the idea describes it:

This theory is a new twist on big bang theory, proposing a novel picture of ho the universe behaved for the first minuscule fraction of a second of its existence.

The central feature of the theory is a brief period of extraordinary rapid expansion, of inflation,  which lasted for a time interval perhaps as short as 10^-30 seconds.  During this period the universe expanded by at least a factor of 10^25, and perhaps a great deal more. [Alan Guth, The Inflationary Universe, p. 14.]

Guth’s initial version of inflation theory has been refined significantly since its origins in the late 1970s, and in its modern form inflation has become part of the basic toolkit of cosmological investigation.  The universe we observe doesn’t make sense unless something occurred to explain, for just one example, the way the universe looks basically the same everywhere, when viewed on the largest scale.  Inflation as the idea has evolved has become the best available explanation (though there have been competing models) for this and other observed cosmological properties.  But the challenge has been to find some tell-tale sign that shows* that inflation actually happened.

It’s been clear for a long time where such signs might lie:  in the cosmic microwave background (CMB),  a snapshot of the cosmos taken at a moment called “recombination,” when the universe cooled down enough to permit electrons and protons to come together to form (mostly) neutral hydrogen atoms.  Photons — light — that up till that moment had been embraced in electromagnetic dances with charged particles were then unshackled to fly freely through space, carrying with them the traces of where they’d been just before that liberation — which came just 380,000 years after the big bang.

J.M.W._Turner_-_The_Beacon_Light

Over time (13.8 billion years), that extremely hot (energetic) spray of light has cooled to 2.7 Kelvins — 2.7 degrees above absolute zero — and is now detectable as those very long wavelengths of light called microwaves.  This  microwave background was identified in 1965 as a generalized blur covering the entire sky; increasingly sophisticated measurements have revealed more and more detail.  Over the last twenty fiveyears those observations have turned into a probe of what happened between the big bang and the flash of the CMB itself:  each newly precise measurement constrains the possible physics that gave rise to the details thus revealed.  Step by step, each new level of detail narrow the options for what could have occurred during the big bang era — and the chain of events that lead from cosmic origins to us becomes increasingly clear.

In the 1990s,  improving resolution of CMB images revealed spots on the sky where there is slightly more energy in that microwave background — corresponding to regions in the early universe with slightly more matter-energy than surrounding regions.  Such variations account for why there are lots of galaxies full of stars in some places, and vast voids in other:  over millions and billions of years, gravity can work on very slight variations in initial density to sort matter into that kind of pattern.

With the advance of both space and ground based microwave imagers, it’s become possible to sample the CMB in vastly greater detail, and thus uncover much more than the simple (easy for me to say) evolution of structure in the universe.  For example, CMB researchers have identified several acoustic peaks in the background — literally, the ringing of the early universe, pressure waves produced by the interaction of light and matter in the very early universe.  The particular properties of those peaks reveal basic facts about the universe — and help distinguish between different theories about how we get the cosmos we inhabit from the big bang whose traces we see in the CMB.

Before today, the state of play was that CMB results were most consistent with the  predictions of inflation, compared with other candidate ideas.  At the same time though, observations that are consistent-with are not the same as direct observations of the cosmological equivalent of the miscreant’s fingerprints on the knife.  That’s what the BICEP results deliver.

In simplest terms:  modern theories of cosmic inflation say that immediately after some tiny perturbation occurs that marks the birth of a universe, it gets pulled apart by inflation — which you can think of as negative gravity, a gravitational field that stretches space-time.  The inflationary episode is so powerful that it expands the infant universe by orders of magnitude in fractions of a second — as some say, inflation provides the bang in the big bang — and it’s so violent that as space-time undergoes such wild tugs, ripples form.  Those ripples are gravitational waves — predicted by Albert Einstein, inferred from the behavior of pulsars, but never detected directly.  An observation of such primordial fluctuations, variations in the strength of the gravitational field from point to point in the early universe, would offer the first direct glimpse of traces of an inflationary episode marking the birth of our cosmos.

And that’s what BICEPs results contain:  the team led by John Kovac at the Harvard – Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Clem Pryke at the University of Minnesota, Jamie Bock at Caltech/JPL, and Chao-Lin Kuo of Stanford and SLAC report the detection of the signature of gravity waves in the CMB with the properties corresponding to those predicted to be produced by inflation.

In slightly more detail, the BICEP experiment observed a particular pattern of polarization in the light (microwaves) of the CMB that inflation would be expected to produce.   (Many more details:   web resources from the BICEP team and partner institutions;  quick semi-technical gloss on the results from Sean B. Carroll;  Matt Strassler’s take; Dennis Overbye’s account in the NYT.)

One key caveat before the wind up:  this is one result from one group.  It is reported with great confidence (that five sigma claim).  But something this big needs independent confirmation — data from the Planck satellite for example, or more ground based observations from other microwave detectors.  This isn’t yet a done deal.

Such confirmation (or disproof) will come fairly quickly — a few years at most.

In the meantime, assuming the data do hold up, what would that mean (forgive me) more cosmically?

At the very least:  that we now understand in previously unattainable detail how our current habitat emerged from nothing (or better, “nothing”).  That the idea of a multiverse — other patches of space time that underwent an inflationary episode to form island universes of their own — has now gained a boost (if one patch of space-time can inflate, so could others)….

…or to put in mythic terms:  there is grandeur in this view of life (the cosmos).  Paraphrasing an old friend, astronomer Sandra Faber, with this new, richer, more fully realized picture of the birth of the universe we have once again enriched that creation story that only science tells, the one that connects the earth we inhabit today with a process of cosmic evolution that we now can trace back all the way to just the barest instant this side of the point of origin.

A good day.

*To a close approximation — this is physics.  You want certainty, become a mathematician.

[Thanks to Dr Katherine J. Mack of the University of Melbourne, aka @AstroKatie, who helped make sure no egregious errors slipped through.  Any mistakes, major or minor, that remain are mine, all mine.]

Image:  J. W. M. Turner, The Beacon Lightc. 1840

PS:  Bonus video showing one of the founding architects of inflation theory receiving news of the result:

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86 replies
  1. 1
    dmsilev says:

    It was one hell of a difficult experiment to do, and the team involved deserves all of the kudos coming their way.

  2. 2
    scav says:

    Huzzah for the Bang! Above and Below, Behind and Ahead. now for the details, which will take me awhile.Whatever the Guard had hasn’t quite managed the proper level of utter discombobulation the subject deserves.

  3. 3
    MattF says:

    I have to say that cosmological inflation always struck me as a crazy hypothesis. “Well, you see, there’s a half-dozen things obviously wrong with our current cosmological models, so we add an effect that’s completely wacko, and, ta-da, everything works nicely.” And now, it turns out to be true.

    The universe is not only stranger than you think, it’s stranger than you can imagine.

  4. 4
    Diana says:

    what amazes me is the fact that the universe must have expanded at greater than light speed. If confirmed, this means that something in our universe did exceed the speed of light.

    onto a General Theory of Everything????

  5. 5
    sparrow says:

    A friend of mine, an astrophysicist at NASA/Goddard, actually proposed the inflation idea a year before Guth in a published paper, though he didn’t come up with the catchy name (“exponential expansion” doesn’t have the same ring). However that paper was ignored and I don’t believe Guth knew about it. However today’s news is still an amazing achievement, congrats to the team. I’m sure a nobel prize is coming.

  6. 6
    eric says:

    lucky for the universe that God is not Chairman of the Federal Reserve

  7. 7
    Tommy says:

    I have to admit this post is above my pay grade. I like to think I am pretty smart, so I picked up The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene a few years ago and I didn’t understand much of what I was going on. Made me feel really stupid actually.

    I plan to watch Comos kind of all at once, so maybe that will help a little :).

  8. 8
    boctaoe says:

    Understanding almost nothing of the above explanations, I still felt overwhelmed watching that video because of the depth of emotion showed by those scientists. How wonderful for them!

  9. 9
    Alexandra says:

    ‘A gravitational field that stretches space-time…’

    Tunch was there at the beginning.

  10. 10
    MattF says:

    @Diana: The joker in this particular deal is ‘causality’. If you give that up, you can go as fast as you like.

  11. 11
    MomSense says:

    @Tommy:

    Cosmos is so good. Besides presenting science in a kick ass way, it is one of the few shows that I can watch with my youngest and it is age appropriate and interesting for both of us.

  12. 12
    ruemara says:

    I’m glad you posted on this, TL. Unfortunately, it became a word river and I glossed through all the details that would have explained things. However, I’m still “YAY, SCIENCE”.

    But, what Diana brought up is also my question. How does that question get answered? I know the idea is that things that are ftl can’t drop below that speed, while things that are not, will never accelerate to ftl. Head hurty now, too early with thinkings. Can’t wait to see how this all turns out.

  13. 13
    Cassidy says:

    @Tommy: Yup. I’m just gonna go with “Science good. Suck it creationists” and be done.

  14. 14
    Tommy says:

    @Cassidy: Yeah that is kind of where I am as well.

  15. 15
    Tommy says:

    @MomSense: That is what I’ve heard. I plan to just sit down in a few weeks and watch the shows all at once. That is really now I like to watch shows I like. I expect to get it on DVD for my niece.

  16. 16
    Felonius Monk says:

    Unfortunately, this great accomplishment is overshadowed by the Newsmax story about Obama selling (or at the least, giving away) “our” Internet. We is doomed.

  17. 17
    NotMax says:

    @Tommy

    BBC has a good article in layman’s terms.

    Other readily readable stuff at space.com.

  18. 18
    Violet says:

    @Cassidy: It’s just bizarre to me how creationists are perfectly happy using all sorts of scientific advancements–modern medicine, air travel, mobile phones, weather forecasting, the internal combustion engine, plastic packaging, hybridized crops, etc.–yet creationism is some sort of line in the sand. It’s yet another example of just how much they’ll cherry-pick what matters to them. There’s zero critical thinking in the way they approach such things.

  19. 19
    Tommy says:

    @NotMax: I got the basics yesterday in a similar story, but it is still hard for me to wrap my mind around it all.

    On a related note it would be nice if everybody got as excited about this as some of us here and thought, “yeah lets spend a lot more money on science. Science for kids. Research grants for science projects like this.”

    I come from a family of tech folks, not science so much, but I recall all the things done for me (built my first computer in the early 80s — from a kit with my dad). All the things my brother is doing for his daughter (she is five). You know she has her own laptop. In a year or two she will be learning programming.

    I just feel so many folks don’t have this and I find that sad.

    IMHO we live in a world if you don’t figure out how things work. How to make things work. Well I am not sure what job you are going to be doing in the 20 years. I fear, well working a shitty job with no benefits.

  20. 20
    the Conster says:

    @Violet:

    Years ago there was a trial in the Boston area of parents who had fatally denied medical treatment to their child because of their religious beliefs, but they both wore glasses. I ranted at the TV for days.

  21. 21
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    OK, how much Star Trek technobabble will this new theory rewrite? That’s what we need to determine, stat!

  22. 22

    @Alexandra: I is in your space-time, messing with your gravity!

  23. 23

    @Villago Delenda Est: None, no can has warp drive yet.

  24. 24
    Roger Moore says:

    @Violet:
    Plenty of people are willing to use GPS and then turn around and deny the value of General Relativity, even though GPS depends on and must account for the effects of General Relativity. It’s only their staggering ignorance, so bad that they don’t realize how much modern technology depends on the branches of science they dispute, that lets them do it.

  25. 25
    MattF says:

    @Violet: “Wishful thinking” is the strongest force in the universe.

  26. 26
    NotMax says:

    @Diana

    Not all that odd. This may help with explaining why.

  27. 27
    Goblue72 says:

    @Violet: If God had wanted us to engage in critical thinking, he wouldn’t have let us think with our guts.

  28. 28
    Tommy says:

    @the Conster: Back in the 80s my high school played a team in soccer. One of their players, and this was at their location, had a compound fracture. You know a broken leg with the bone through the skin. The team and parents stood around and prayed. You know, no “modern” medicine.

    I wasn’t on the team, but a close friend was and it scared him to see it.

    We were like WTF is going on. You fucking people are crazy. I don’t think anybody knew this community, north of Alton IL, had these beliefs. They were dropped from our schedule.

  29. 29

    Can someone who knows the General Theory of Relativity explain exactly what gravity waves are?

  30. 30
    Corner Stone says:

    a novel picture of ho the universe

    That does sound like one Big Bang, indeed.

  31. 31
    Belafon says:

    So I started out thinking that this sounds makes the creation of matter in the universe much like what happens when a balloon pops, and then I went wondering off about how a balloon is more like a 2D structure than a 3D one and then started imagining the properties of an exploding 3D balloon.

    Fun stuff.

  32. 32
    gbear says:

    @ruemara:

    Can’t wait to see how this all turns out.

    The universe will end.

    I’ll add my voice to those who get kind of headachy reading the details.I’m happy for the scientists and hope that this helps them get closer to understanding the origins of the universe. They deserve a good day.

  33. 33
    Cassidy says:

    @Violet: Because God wants us to have those things! No bullshit, I’ve asked them similar questions. It really gets weird about the time God deliberately placed dinosaur bones in the earth to confuse and make us think the earth is older.

    @Roger Moore: A friend of mine, a guy I have immense respect for, is an attack helicopter pilot. Also a Young Earth Creationist.

  34. 34
    Tommy says:

    @Roger Moore: IMHO technology has become so simple and easy to use, that people don’t even understand what is going on with the devices they use.

    I do web sites for a living and often I have to explain to clients how, well the Internet works. Things like hosting and DNS servers. An IP address. I do it so often I got a fast way to do it and when I am done I am always stunned. They are like wow, that is how things work?

    I am like yes.

    But back to my first point, technology has become so easy nobody cares how it works. They just want it to work. And tech companies, say what you will about them, they have gotten good at doing this.

  35. 35
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Alexandra:

    Tunch was there at the beginning.

    We’ve always suspected it, but the evidence is piling up that it was so.

  36. 36
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: They go in, they go out, no one knows why.

  37. 37
    MattF says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Well… since gravitational waves haven’t been observed, you can’t just point to something and say “That’s a gravitational wave.” What you can do is look at the basic partial differential equations of General Relativity (a.k.a. Einstein’s equations) and observe that they allow propagating disturbances.

    This is the same sort of reasoning that led to the prediction of electromagnetic radiation– just look at Maxwell’s equations and draw the ‘obvious’ conclusions. I’ll allow that this way of thinking about things may seem backwards– drawing specific conclusions about reality from a mathematical hypothesis– but there is a sort of general principle– if some effect is allowed by the governing equations, it will occur.

  38. 38
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Tommy:

    IMHO technology has become so simple and easy to use, that people don’t even understand what is going on with the devices they use.

    Well, let’s just say that it’s easy to use without having the slightest clue as to how it got there, or what was needed for it to exist.

    IT is a lot like this, and you see it all the time with the legions of glibertarian shitheads who are in IT who don’t have clue one as to how it got there, or the history behind it, it just existed…always has, always will, as if what is happening right now is just another moment in a steady-state that always has been.

    The changes that occur within our own limited lifetimes don’t register with some of these people. How can they hope to grasp concepts that take millions of years to develop?

  39. 39
    Lurking Canadian says:

    @Diana: As I understand it (which is not very well), they have an answer to that. The physicists will tell you no actual thing moved faster than light, it’s just that the space between things stretched. Blah blah, spots on a balloon, blah.

    Like MattF above, the whole thing has always sounded like angels dancing on the head of a pin; or at best, like epicycles on the Ptolemaic spheres, and now this crazy kludge factor turns out to be right? Crazy business.

  40. 40
    the Conster says:

    @Tommy:

    Then they all got in their cars and drove away with the radio on.

  41. 41
    Belafon says:

    @Tommy: Remember when people were slapping copyright violation notices on their websites, totally missing that people have to download the webpage content onto their computer in order to read it?

  42. 42

    @MattF: So if the speed of light = E/B, what is the speed of gravity waves and what exactly is. waving? The gravitational field? of what object. I have never had a class in General Relativity so my understanding of it is pretty sketchy

  43. 43
    burnspbesq says:

    Fascinating stuff. It’s interesting to note that no matter how our knowledge of the history of the cosmos expands, the question “and before that, there was …?” never quite goes away. And as long as that question is still there, there is a cognitive space in which the existence of That Thing We Refer to as “God” for Ease of Reference never quite becomes implausible.

  44. 44
    geg6 says:

    I don’t understand more than a few words (like “the” and “and”) in this post, but I certainly am enjoying Neil deGrasse Tyson and Cosmos making wingnut heads explode every Sunday night.

  45. 45
    low-tech cyclist says:

    At the very least: that we now understand in previously unattainable detail how our current habitat emerged from nothing (or better, “nothing”). That the idea of a multiverse — other patches of space time that underwent an inflationary episode to form island universes of their own — has now gained a boost (if one patch of space-time can inflate, so could others)….

    OK, I’m confused. I thought spacetime existed on account of the Big Bang – that whatever milieu the Big Bang happened in, it’s outside of our space-time continuum, and that there’s nothing we can say about that milieu, or whether there even IS such a milieu: that basically we’re on the inside of this four-dimensional bubble of spacetime created by the Big Bang, and not only can’t we see outside, but there’s no way we’d ever be able to tell whether there IS an ‘outside.’

    Tom, I expect the ignorance expressed in the paragraph I just wrote is pretty staggering, but if there’s anything you can say relatively quickly to reduce my ignorance somewhat, I’d deeply appreciate it.

  46. 46
    raven says:

    @geg6: ditto

  47. 47
    PaulW says:

    The celebrating scientist should have baked an apple pie from scratch…

  48. 48
    Anoniminous says:

    @Belafon:

    4D: Space (Height axis, Length axis, Depth axis) and Time axis … or vector, if you prefer.

  49. 49
    Roger Moore says:

    @Tommy:

    IMHO technology has become so simple and easy to use, that people don’t even understand what is going on with the devices they use.

    This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The internet never would have become as widespread as it is today if ordinary users had to understand IP and DNS in order to use it. I suspect that this is a general principle: in order for a technology to be universal, it must be able to hide its implementation details to the point that the average user doesn’t need to care about them.

  50. 50
    MattF says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: It’s the speed of light. unless you can come up with a very good reason for some other velocity. What’s oscillating and propagating is the gravitational field.

    ETA: There’s the added weirdness that the energy in a gravitational wave is itself a source of gravitation, but this additional self-energy is very, very small.

  51. 51
    Baud says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Gravity waves move at light speed since gravitons are massless.

    @geg6:

    What is this “the” of which you speak?

  52. 52
    pat says:

    I don’t understand a word of this, therefore someone is just making shit up.
    /wingnut

  53. 53
    Comrade Mary says:

    I love that video. I especially love that the prof’s wife (a physicist) understands and reacts first while her gobstruck husband is processing the news. (Not calling him slow or anything — just that I didn’t expect his wife to know what exactly was going on as I didn’t expect her to also be a scientist. My own sexism: I’m soaking in it.)

  54. 54
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @burnspbesq: The Deists had the right idea about all this.

    Everything after the moment of creation can be explained without reference to the moment of creation.

    “God created the universe, then split.”

    It was Asimov (or perhaps Clarke), I think, who wrote a short story about the creation of the universe, where a supercomputer was given the task of solving the problem of entropy, and long after the heat death of the universe, the computer (which had been moved to another dimension) came up with the solution. No one around to report findings to, so the computer said “Let there be light” and SHAZAM! you’ve got a new universe.

  55. 55
    Mike in NC says:

    @Roger Moore: How many people have used their GPS to navigate to the Museum of Creationism, I wonder?

  56. 56
    Anoniminous says:

    @Comrade Mary:

    …didn’t expect her to also be a scientist.

    The SO would hit you with a copy of Hartwell, et. al. if she read that.

    ETA: :-)

  57. 57
    NotMax says:

    @schrodinger’s cat

    Will take a stab at it and try to keep it short.

    Predictable ripples (oscillating variances) in space-time radiating from certain energetic interactions of mass with mass.

    Far from an explanation satisfying theory fully, but picture someone in a darkened room twirling a baton which is flaming on each end. You”ll experience variations of light and heat radiation relative to your viewing position as each end twirls closer or farther from you. There will also be (virtually immeasurable as it is so small on this scale) gravitational radiation that similarly oscillates from your point of view as the mass of each end (and its own accompanying gravitational potential) interacts with that of the other.

  58. 58
  59. 59
    Roger Moore says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    what exactly is. waving? The gravitational field? of what object.

    As I understand it, gravity waves are basically disturbances in the gravitational field, and they’re created any time anything with gravity (i.e. anything with mass) accelerates. IOW, they’re being created all the time by everything. It’s just that gravity is such a weak force that gravity waves are incredibly weak and hard to detect; it would take something like two neutron stars in a very close orbit to generate detectable gravity waves, and that’s with huge, incredibly expensive detectors.

    And there’s only one, universal gravity field, which manifests itself as the warping of spacetime. We talk about being in the gravitational field of a specific object like the Earth when that object makes the most important contribution to the gravitational field in the area we’re talking about, but that’s just a figure of speech. We’re actually experiencing the gravitational effects of every object in the universe all the time, and those individual contributions add up to a single universal gravitational field.

  60. 60
    Don Elliott says:

    I was a graduate student in Austin in ’68 and years following, and heard about Guth et al from my Astronomy and General Relativity/Cosmology peeps. These were the days of Joe Weber and giant Aluminum cylinders located underground, attempting actual experiments to observe “gravity waves,” without success. These observations are a very different image than we had available back then. And some of Weber’s work has found homes in vibration detection applications all over. Good work, all around

  61. 61
    Diana says:

    @Alexandra: I agree!!!!

  62. 62
    Tommy says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: The other things that gets me is all the folks saying USA, USA, USA is #1. For Internet connections we pay more than any other first world nation for a much slower connection. Look at cell phone networks. We are at least 5-7 years being most of the EU and Asia. I love how the cell phone companies love to advertise 4G. Well that G stands for generation and we are a full generation behind most of the world. Heck head to the EU and you can use your cell phone for everything. Heck use it at a vending machine. A subway. You name it.

    Things we are just dreaming of doing here.

    OK rant ended ….

  63. 63
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @MattF: Yup, that’s it!

    Turns out, from the link, that is was Asimov’s favorite of his own short stories. With good reason, I think!

  64. 64
    dollared says:

    Tom, thanks for this. Best explanation yet. And love love love the video. Reposting.

    Due to a smart brother of mine, I’ve been on that street in the Stanford faculty ghetto, soaking in a hot tub purchased with Nobel prize money.

    And yet it was a run down Eichler full of books and art. With leaky windows. And I love that this prof and his wife don’t have champagne flutes.

    Because I’m not as smart as that brother, I’ve I spent my life working with all the folks on the other side of the El Camino. And they all have the correct wine glass for any occasion. If you know what I mean.

  65. 65
    Tommy says:

    @Belafon: I think it was 1995. I had a huge fight with a co-worker that said it was ILLEGAL for me to link to another web site. I am like lady, you don’t understand how the Internet works. There is no way that can be illegal.

  66. 66
    Anoniminous says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Napoleon asked Laplace where God fit into his mathematical work, and Laplace famously replied “Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.”

  67. 67
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Tommy: It’s all due to our obsession with short term profit, as opposed to long term prosperity. Because long term prosperity might benefit the morally despicable poors, don’t you know. Can’t have THAT!

  68. 68
    Diana says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: It’s “The Last Question” by Asimov

  69. 69
    Diana says:

    @MattF: oh, you beat me to it!

  70. 70
    rikyrah says:

    you mean that science is true?

  71. 71
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @rikyrah: I think Dr. Harrison Jones, WoW Archaeology trainer said it best. “Archaeology is the search for fact. Not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Cuddy Nordlinger’s Philosophy class is right down the hall.”

  72. 72
    Randy P says:

    @Diana: Nope. No matter moving faster than light, no information transfer faster than light. Space itself can expand faster than light without violating relativity.

    It’s one of those things that makes inflation sound nutty and ad hoc. And yet the evidence keeps coming in.

  73. 73
    Tommy says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Yes that is a problem. My town two years ago got a $750,000 grant from the Federal government. We wired a fiber optics backbone in my town (8,700 pop) and all public/government buildings.

    Included in that was money to do a study to see the economic benefit of wiring the entire town. That report isn’t done, but pretty sure I know what it will say.

    We want to do it, but alas we are looking at the law suits that have been filed when other communities tried to do this.

    My gut is we are going to try, but who knows. I just find it funny (actually sad) that a small town like mine can seem to do what Charter Communications, Verizon, and Frontier Communications can’t do on their own.

  74. 74
    Lurking Canadian says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: We named the dog Indiana!

  75. 75
    Cervantes says:

    @rikyrah: Science is science only if it’s falsifiable.

  76. 76
    Tom Levenson says:

    @low-tech cyclist: Above my pay grade too, but checking back with my copy of Guth’s book (and my distant recollection of presentations he’s given to my class) a starting place for thinking about the multiverse is to recognize that a single inflation event can produce lots of pocket universes, not just the one we live in. That’s because of the idea that the initial inflation event as it evolves — formally, as the false vacuum decays — would give rise to a vast number of pocket universes, each expanding away under the same physics . Such pocket universes, randomly distributed around the evolving, now huge, false vacuum, would be out of touch with each other. Because of quantum fluctuations (built into the fabric of quantum theory), each pocket universe would cease to inflate on their own time. Subsequent instances of a false vacuum emerging would produce other inflation events, and more pocket universes, still, all out of contact with every other one. As Guth writes, “If eternal inflation is correct, then the big bang which occurred 10 to 15 billion years ago was the beginning of our “pocket universe,” but not the universe as a whole. The full universe existed long before our pocket universe and will continue to exist for eternity.” [AG, The Inflationary Universe, p. 271]

    Does that help?

  77. 77
    Cermet says:

    @low-tech cyclist: As I understand the concept, the answer is that in general, multi-universes are not accessible to our Universe by any observation. BUT if our Universe (during its start with inflation) nucleates other areas that also inflate later/earlier/different rates, than these different areas become their own universe and they can seen by us in a manner of speaking (we see the effects of their creation.) We do not see these other universes as they currently exist.
    Stranger still, these ripples (B-waves) are caused by effects smaller than the Plank scale that occurred during that time!!! That is amazing.
    Also, since our Universe appears flat (and the microwave data indicates this) it is infinite and once anyone moves past 10^112 light years (for a spherical volume, that is), an exact me down to the location of every atom currently existing in me and you) is typing this exact sentence as you in that area is also reading it – talk about strange and amazing.
    Of course, due to the current expansion of our Universe, anything past about 64 billions light years is forever outside our observable area since those objects “appear” to be traveling faster than light away from us (they are not moving faster than light but it is the creation of new space between us and them that gives these galaxies /stars/etc the apparent speed … .)

  78. 78
    NonyNony says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    That’s because of the idea that the initial inflation event as it evolves — formally, as the false vacuum decays — would give rise to a vast number of pocket universes, each expanding away under the same physics .

    Okay, here’s where I’m shaky on what I’m reading (and perhaps this is where I can get an answer to the question):

    What is inflating here? And what is it inflating “in”? What is this “false vacuum” that you speak of here?

    I clearly have long held a misunderstanding of the Big Bang, because I thought it was basically was an expansion of 4-dimensional (or n-dimensional) spacetime in essentially nothing. As in “prior” to the Big Bang there was a hot and compressed jumble of something and there was nothing, and at the “moment” of the Big Bang that jumble of something became spacetime.

    But clearly that isn’t going on here, because this theory seems to at least presume that there are different “places” where expansions can happen (since people are saying that one of the repercussions of this measurement is that multiverses are possible) – so … how does that work? Is that what the “false vacuum” stuff is about?

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    taylormattd says:

    Wow, that video is *fantastic*

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    Bill in Section 147 says:

    @Comrade Mary: Yeah. She pretty much realizes that if this guy is at the door then he must be there to break the news from the research. Professor Linde is still processing the, “Hey its you, we were just talking about you last night and here you are. What are you doing at my door?”

    I love how he is sitting there babbling about how he was haunted by the thought, “What if I was tricked? What if it was a trick?” How incredibly wise and smart do you have to be to realize that certainty is uncertain?

  81. 81
    low-tech cyclist says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    Does that help?

    Yes, considerably – thanks! I’m going to have to do some supplemental reading here, because my mental picture of the origins of the universe is clearly a bit behind the times.

  82. 82
    David Derbes says:

    @MattF: I think the exact quote, by the biologist JBS Haldane, is: Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

    Fortunately, Profs. Alan Guth, Andrei Linde, and Alex Starobinsky (and there are probably others) have exceptional imagination.

    Incidentally, if you see the charming and rather poignant video of Prof. Linde being brought a bottle of champagne, you should know that his wife Prof. Renata Kallosh is also an extremely well-known theoretical physicist. She understood the messenger before her husband did.

  83. 83
    les says:

    Prof. Matt Stassler at “f Particular Significance” has a series of articles on this; he does a really good job of making physics understandable, by breaking the pieces down to smaller and smaller articles. So you can stop at the point you (think) you understand. First found him talking about the Higgs Boson findings.

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    John Casey says:

    I thought the video was just beautiful. If we had Einstein on film getting the news of the Eddington expedition’s results, it would be the same sort of moment.

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    Marc in MD says:

    The Turner illustration is apposite and awesome. Great find, great synthesis!

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    mclaren says:

    As the saying goes, three sigma is interesting, four sigma is an anecdote, and five sigma is an observation. Looks like Alan Guth is due for a Nobel prize in physics.

    This still leaves lots of puzzles, though. What is dark energy? What is dark matter? What substitute for now-discredited string theory will emerge to explain the hierarchy problem?

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