Andrei Linde, one of the pioneers of inflation theory, is ecstatic his life work has been measured for the first time. If the latest data being released from an observatory near the South Pole is confirmed, it could change the course of astrophysics forever.
Linde, a theoretical physicist from Stanford University, first developed the idea of inflation in the early 1980's with fellow astrophysicist Alan Guth of MIT.
One night, Guth was working on physics problems, attempting to answer a pair of questions. The first was the apparent lack of a certain exotic particle that should have been created by the tremendous energy of the Big Bang. The second question was how the Universe could have such a smooth distribution of matter. The scientist realized that a repulsive force causing the infant Universe to expand much faster than the speed of light for a tiny fraction of the first second after the Big Bang could answer both problems. Irregularities would be smoothed out, and the rare particles would dilute so quickly, they would not be easily detected.
Whenever matter travels through space, it creates gravitational waves. These are most pronounced in the modern Universe in regions where black holes or quasars orbit around each other. These were first predicted by Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, almost 100 years ago.
Gravitational waves are extremely difficult to measure. So far, no one has observed such a wave directly. But, a new measurement of the background radiation of the Universe, given off early in the life of the Universe, shows the effect of these waves.
Ripples in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation show a tell-tale pattern predicted by the theories of Guth and Linde. The effect was seen in measurements taken by Harvard's John Kovac. The chance the results are mistaken are just one in 3.5 million - called the five sigma standard.
Guth said he was "bowled over" by the confirmation, which he thought he would not see in his lifetime.
This new finding could be the first proof that a multitude of other universes exist beyond our own. Everything we see, as far as 13 billion light years away from Earth, might be just a tiny part of a much grander multiverse.
Chao-Lin Kuo is co-leader of the research team that made the new finding. He personally told Linde the news, and he brought a film crew from Stanford to help him record the reaction of the physicist. He uploaded the video for the public. In just one day, the video received almost one million views.
Guth, Linde and Kovac could all win the Noble Prize in Physics for this new discovery.