A big bang echo recorded by the BICEP team may have just been dust, according to new data obtained by astronomers using data from the Planck satellite.
Interstellar dust was measured by the observatory, revealing that an observation that claimed to have recorded gravitational waves from the Big Bang may have been in error. The original report was announced in March 2014, exciting astronomers and the public.
The cosmic map produced by astronomers using the Planck observatory could guide researchers to the actual echo from the beginning of the Universe.
The Planck space observatory was designed and is managed by the European Space Agency. The mission was designed to carefully observe the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the leftover energy from the Big Bang. The vehicle was launched into orbit around the sun in May 2009. A map of the entire sky, recorded by the spacecraft, was released on March 21, 2013.
Astronomers at the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole collected data on a twist in the polarization of light in the CMB. Polarization of light is utilized in the 3D movies, as two versions of the film, shot at short distances apart from each other, are played together on the screen. Polarizing filters in glasses allow just one of the images to pass through to each eye, creating the illusion of three dimensions on the silver screen.
The twist in polarization from Big Bang was thought to be caused by gravitational waves formed during the earliest history of the Universe. If this finding had been confirmed by other research, it would have proven the idea that the early Universe expanded at a speed many times faster than the speed of light, for a tiny fraction of a second.
Interstellar dust, floating in between the stars of the Milky Way galaxy, could have polarized light in much the same way as gravaitational waves, according to John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, team leader at the BICEP2 observatory. However, Kovac and his team believed that the small patch of sky observed by Planck eliminated much of the interference that would have affected results. Other astronomers and other researchers began to question the findings, claiming the BICEP2 team underestimated the concentration of dust in our galaxy.
"The level of dust in the BICEP2 region is clearly significant, and also higher than pre-Planck estimates," Jamie Bock, Bicep2 team member from JPL and the California Institute of Technology, said.
Gravitational waves may play a role in polarizing light from the Big Bang, which may be seen after signals from interstellar dust is eliminated from the findings. The BICEP2 team will release an analysis of their data in November 2014. The group's name is an acronym for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization.