Claims about cosmic inflation are being revisited by astronomers. Astronomers who believed last March that they had found evidence about the early universe and its expansion now believe that their original claim may be incorrect.
Last year’s announcement of the discovery of long-sought evidence of cosmic inflation stormed through the astronomy community. The evidence proved that the universe appeared to rapidly expand nanoseconds after its birth. This notion of expansion gave astronomers the hope to see what exactly happened at the near-birth of the universe. A project called BICEP 2 was responsible for the discovery. BICEP 2 utilized the equipment and resources from the European Space Agency at their Planck Satellite.
The beginning of the universe and the mysteries thereof have been debated nearly as far back as when Galileo discovered the telescope, which gave the human race the chance to peer further beyond the night sky. Generations of humanity have almost always pondered the thought of from whence they came. It was not until the early twentieth century that the studies of cosmology were beginning to unearth the mystery of the creation of the universe, which includes all that is known and will ever be known.
The epoch of inflation just after The Big Bang, the birth of the universe, lasted just a Planck second. A Planck second is the shortest theoretical time possible – about 10 to the negative power of 44. It is calculated by dividing the speed of light into a Planck length and measuring how long it takes a photon to travel this Planck length. The initial acceleration occurred at its fastest speed for only the aforementioned Planck second. Thenceforth, it has continued to slow down.
Since the accelerated rate of the universe was calculated to slow over time, the notion of the “big freeze” was proposed. The big freeze is when all motion in the universe ceases through entropy, when the minimum temperature allowed on the thermodynamic scale of absolute zero, -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, is achieved. This would be the point at which all atomic motion stops and the laws of physics break down, putting an end to cosmic inflation,and thus leading to the death of the universe.
In the last few decades, astrophysicists have claimed that the universe’s cosmic inflation has not just stayed constant, but is actually speeding up. The theoretical premise behind this is attributed to the existence of dark energy and dark matter, which is matter that does not reflect light and energy and cannot be detected. Currently, scientists believe this is what combats the gravitational force down to the quantum level, which allows the universe to engage in cosmic expansion. They believe that dark matter and dark energy may make up over 90 percent of what is in the universe.
Brain Keating, a researcher at the University of California – San Diego, stated that they are retracing this claim after a paper was sent for publication which backed up this refuting claim. He said that this is a disappointing find, but it is important that the truth about the cosmic birth of the universe is unearthed.
Keating explained that his analysis with the BICEP 2 project was not an observation of the early universe. Instead, it was equally probable that they observed and recorded dust from within the Milky Way galaxy. Therefore, it does not uphold the evidence needed to support their original claim.
Nonetheless, scientists will continue their stellar hunt on if and why cosmic inflation exists. Only time will tell if advances in stellar observation will allow astronomers to observe and record the actual birth and fate of the universe. Until then, cosmic inflation theory is dead in the water.
By Alex Lemieux
Article image: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center – Flickr License
Featured image: Ram Reddy – Flickr License