Astronomers who recently announced to the world the found evidence of gravity waves in the wake of the big bang now say they could be wrong. A series of astronomers and physicist have raised criticisms about the study.
Gravity waves were first predicted in the theory of general relativity by Albert Einstein. These ripples in the fabric of space-time have never been directly observed.
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics researchers announced in March they detected evidence for these waves, although not the features themselves. If their data is correct, properties of these ripples would provide near-certain proof of cosmic inflation. This model states the Universe expanded at a spread many times the speed of light for a small fraction of the first second after the big bang.
John Kovac of Harvard University led the search for evidence of conditions in the early universe. His team looked at patterns in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the "echo" of the big bang. This radiation is left over from the time when subatomic particles formed into atoms 380,000 years after the big bang.
The Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP2) telescope was used to collect much of the data used in the Harvard study. The observatory operated near the South Pole from January 2010 to December 2012.
The BICEP2 team recently released their analysis of the data that could prove cosmic inflation correct.
BICEP2 data is not able "to exclude the possibility of dust emission bright enough to explain the entire excess signal," researchers wrote in their analysis.
Other groups and astrophysicists also expressed doubts about the March findings. Lawrence Krauss, physicist with Arizona State University, points out a pair of problems with the findings, including contradictory data from the PLANK satellite, as well as potential interference from galactic dust.
"Even if the BICEP2 signal does arise from primordial gravitational waves, various consistency checks will be required before it can be definitively argued that the signal arises from inflation," Krauss wrote.
The BICEP2 observatory scanned two percent of the sky for a single frequency. Data taken by the completed Plank space mission was taken in six frequencies, covering three times as much area. A team investigation data from that program is due to release their findings in a few months.
"I think in retrospect, they should have been more careful about making a big announcement," David Spergel, a theoretical astrophysicist at Princeton University, told the press, talking about the Harvard group and their March declaration.
Investigation of the BICEP2 data and how it could affect the search for gravitational waves and cosmic inflation was profiled in the journal Physical Review Letters.