Physicists Discover Evidence of Early Gravitational Waves

Steffen Richter/Harvard University

Steffen Richter/Harvard University

Scientists working at Harvard University’s BICEP2 project at the South Pole announced this week that they have detected evidence of gravitational waves shortly after the Big Bang. This discovery supports recent theories pertaining to the universe’s birth and observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB).

Albert Einstein predicted, through his model of general relativity, that the gravity of massive objects would cause ripples in space-time; however, this prediction had some inconsistencies when it was put up against observation. Alan Guth, now at MIT, made some modifications to his theory that accounted for these lapses. The current theory was proposed by Stanford University physicist Andrei Linde and was until this week unconfirmed.

The researchers reported a confidence level of greater than 5 sigma, which means that the chances of the signal reported being a mistake are less than 1 in 3.5 million.

These findings could help reconcile quantum physics, which describes the unimaginably small, and general relativity, which describes things on a scale that we are more familiar with. Quantum physics and general relativity seem to follow different rules, so it has been difficult thus far to describe how they work together to describe the universe.

The results have yet to be confirmed by another party, but most scientists working in the field are confident that they will be replicated. If the results are confirmed and published, the discoverers will likely win this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics.