Tag Archives: Cosmic inflation

How space dust teaches us about scientific progresses

30 Sep

Sometimes I feel that it sucks to be a physicist.

(Just to clarify – I am not one, and this is my personal opinion, having worked years in a department full of physicists, and with a background in non-physics fields. This is not after any discussion with other physicists in my dept – they might agree, they might not)

There was a major announcement back in March that results from BICEP2, a telescope sitting in the South Pole, showed evidence of cosmic inflation. This was, at the time, considered a Nobel Prize worthy discovery – I rounded up a few links on this back then.

The sun sets behind BICEP2 (in the foreground) and the South Pole Telescope (in the background). (Photo: Steffen Richter, Harvard University via BICEP2 image release gallery)

The sun sets behind BICEP2 (in the foreground) and the South Pole Telescope (in the background). (Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

However, recently new results from Planck, a space telescope run by the European Space Agency, showed that the patterns in cosmic wave background detected by BICEP2 are likely just space dust.

The Planck telescope up close (Photo: ESA for public use)

The Planck telescope up close (Photo: ESA for public use)

Suddenly the internet space is filled with criticism – like Big Bang blunder bursts the multiverse bubble, or When Science Gets Ahead Of Itself .

Enough, people.

The reason you are seeing all these in the public is because physicists are known to be open about their research results. There is no (or very little) “I am hiding this so that I can get rich off it” or “I think someone else is going to scoop my research.” Data are often shared as soon as they are available via the open access arXiv. People make results open so that others can criticize it. So that the public can better understand science. So the field as a whole can progress as much and as fast as possible. In fact, there was already some talk about data sharing between the BICEP2 and the Planck team. Physicists are years, if not decades, ahead of other fields in the openness and rapidness in sharing information.

In my mind, this is what science is about.

I completely agree with Philip Ball, as he said in his article in the Guardian:

The team involved has been criticised for publishing results before they were peer reviewed. But this is what science is: debate, discussion, deliberation.

This is also what makes science interesting. It is constantly changing, not static; it is the collective knowledge, not lines of facts. As mentioned by Astrophysicist Mario Livio,

As disappointing as these new results may sound, they provide for a powerful demonstration of how science truly progresses. Advances in science are far from being a direct march to the truth. Rather, they consist of a zigzag path that often results in false starts or blind alleys. The important point, however, is that through continuous checks, testable predictions, and new observations, science is able to self-correct and find the right way.

After Higgs Boson was found, Stephen Hawking (who lost $100 in a bet about it) said,

Physics would be ‘more interesting’ if Higgs boson hadn’t been found.

Let’s not go back to the age of waiting for years before the results are published. I say that realizing BICEP2 might come from dusts keeps the discussion of cosmic inflation interesting. And, this definitely means that the bet between Stephen Hawking and Neil Turok is not over yet.

***

Links to the original publications:

Ade P.A.R., M. Amiri, D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder, E. Bullock & G. Davis & (2014). BICEP2. II. EXPERIMENT AND THREE-YEAR DATA SET, The Astrophysical Journal, 792 (1) 62. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/0004-637x/792/1/62

Ade P.A.R., D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder, E. Bullock, C. D. Dowell & L. Duband & (2014). Detection of B-Mode Polarization at Degree Angular Scales by BICEP2, Physical Review Letters, 112 (24) DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/physrevlett.112.241101

Planck Collaboration, R. Adam, P. A. R. Ade, N. Aghanim, M. Arnaud, J. Aumont, C. Baccigalupi, A. J. Banday, R. B. Barreiro, J. G. Bartlett & N. Bartolo (2014). Planck intermediate results. XXX. The angular power spectrum of
polarized dust emission at intermediate and high Galactic latitudes, arXiv: http://arxiv.org/abs/1409.5738v1

Advertisements

Link roundup – BICEP2, the Big Bang, and the Inflation Theory

27 Mar

In the past two weeks, the biggest news in science was probably the detection of the comic microwave background pattern (due to gravitational waves from the early universe)  that serves as the evidence for the inflation theory. Ever since the news broke, many people and media outlets have written about this – and here is a collection of the articles if you are interested in learning more about the discovery as well as its impact.

The BICEP2 telescope at twilight, which occurs only twice a year at the South Pole. The MAPO observatory (home of the Keck Array telescope) and the South Pole station can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

The BICEP2 telescope at twilight, which occurs only twice a year at the South Pole. The MAPO observatory (home of the Keck Array telescope) and the South Pole station can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

Original publications on arXiv:

BICEP2 Collaboration, P. A. R Ade, R. W. Aikin, D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder, E. Bullock & C. D. Dowell (2014). BICEP2 I: Detection Of B-mode Polarization at Degree Angular Scales, arXiv:

BICEP2 Collaboration, P. A. R Ade, R. W. Aikin, M. Amiri, D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder & E. Bullock (2014). BICEP2 II: Experiment and Three-Year Data Set, arXiv:

BICEP2 results: BICEP2 2014 Results Release – including the papers, figures, video (technical and news conference), Q & A, images, etc

BBC articles:

New York Times has a pretty comprehensive story on it along with some graphic explanation: Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang’s Smoking Gun

Nature News has a whole special feature dedicated to this, including Q & A and discussion of implications: Special – Waves from the Big Bang

Some shameless self-promotion / Canadian context: My department got a little bit of attention because one of our faculty members, Dr. Mark Halpern, is one of the co-authors of the BICEP2 papers (I believe there are also collaborators from the University Toronto). Here are some interviews with Mark.

Now let’s be cautious here: 

Matt Strassler, theoretical physicist and a visiting scholar at Harvard, put together some posts about the BICEP2 results in his blog post If It Holds Up, What Might BICEP2′s Discovery Mean?. He is “cautiously optimistic” at the moment, which is a good place to be for scientists 🙂  His posts have more scientific content, but you can find a lot of background information on his site (mostly hyperlinked throughout his posts. You can also just start from the March 17th post).

Neil Turok, the Director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute, “urges caution on BICEP2 results” in a physicsworld.com article. Granted, he is not exactly a supporter of the inflation theory to begin with – he has a bet with Stephen Hawking on it, and Hawking is now claiming vistory. If you scroll down to the middle of the BBC article Cosmic inflation: ‘Spectacular’ discovery hailed, you can find a sound clip of Stephen Hawking and Neil Turok’s perspectives on the BICEP2 evidence (Hawking: I won! Turok: Not yet!).

This crazy Universe – or universes? Sean Carroll from Caltech wrote about the evidence for inflation and its implication for “multiverse” in New York Times Opinionator article When Nature Looks Unnatural (A shorter highlight could be found on io9). He also expanded on the topic on his personal blog, The Preposterous Universe.

Onto the lighter side of things: See how Andrei Linde, one of the main authors of the inflation theory, reacted to the news re: BICEP2 results delivered by Chao-Lin Kuo, a co-author of the BICEP2 papers.

If you have any additional resources or articles to add, please feel free to comment below. Otherwise, enjoy!

%d bloggers like this: