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Astronomers working on the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP2) telescope at the South Pole hit the headlines earlier this year when they claimed to have seen the first evidence for the primordial “B-mode” polarization of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). But a new analysis of polarized dust emission in our galaxy, carried out by the Planck collaboration, has shown that the part of the sky observed by BICEP2 has much more dust than originally anticipated.

The B-modes observed by the BICEP telescope are therefore most likely to be “local” galactic contamination rather than an imprint left behind by the rapid “inflation” of the early universe – the extremely rapid expansion that cosmologists believe our universe underwent a mere 10–35 s after the Big Bang. While the new analysis does not completely rule out BICEP2’s original claim just yet, it does establish that the dust emission is nearly as big as the entire BICEP2 signal.

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