May 15, 2014 - An acclaimed "smoking gun" discovery explaining the unfolding of the early universe faces rumors of a cosmic misfire. (See: "Big Bang's 'Smoking Gun' Confirms Early Universe's Exponential Growth.")
In March the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2) team headed by Harvard's John Kovac announced a pioneering observation of cosmological "gravitational waves" first predicted by Einstein to headlines worldwide. The claim seemed to confirm the conventional cosmological view of the universe expanding exponentially in its earliest instant.
The cosmologists reported that, using a telescope in Antarctica, they had seen the swirled signatures of these surprisingly strong gravity ripples crisscrossing a portion of the big bang's aftermath—the so-called cosmic microwave background that emanates from every corner of the sky. (Related: "How Will Science Confirm Those Cosmic Signals From the Infant Universe?")
That claim, however, has come under fire. An online particle physics blog post written by physicist Adam Falkowski of the Laboratory of Theoretical Physics of Orsay, France, on Monday reported that "experts now put a finger on what exactly went wrong in BICEP."
Essentially, Falkowski suggests that the BICEP2 team had mixed up the effects of microwaves emitted by dust inside our Milky Way galaxy with those of the microwaves released by dust filling the entire sky. Both kinds of microwaves need to be carefully unmasked and removed from the analysis to observe the gravitational wave ripples seen by BICEP2 in the underlying cosmic microwave background.