Discovery Bolsters Big-Bang Theory

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By Robert Lee Hotz and Gautam Naik,

from The Wall Street Journal,

Scientists said Monday they have detected the earliest signals reaching back to the birth of the universe almost 14 billion years ago, buttressing the big-bang theory of how the cosmos was formed.

Using a radio telescope at the South Pole, a team of astronomers and astrophysicists said they found telltale patterns of gravity waves in the primordial microwave radiation that lingers in space today. Scientists consider this the faint afterglow of the big bang.

The discovery offers what scientists say is the first direct data on the creation of the universe. Until now, cosmologists had theories but few facts.

If the work proves correct, it demonstrates that gravitational waves, which squeeze and stretch the fabric of space, were created in abundance during the early expansion, or “inflation,” of the universe, the instant when space grew from a pinpoint smaller than an atom to the entire observable universe seen today, several experts said. This theory is the keystone of modern cosmology.

Gravitational waves also are a significant prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Researchers have been seeking evidence of these waves for years, and now scientists say they have found it.

A rival theory to the big bang suggests that the universe was instead created as part of an endless self-sustaining cycle. If the latest observations are true, “those cyclical models are dead,” said Neil Turok, director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, a theorist who favors the cyclical models.

With much at stake, scientists on both sides of the debate will scrutinize the new data to see if they can corroborate the findings.

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