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The evidence for primordial gravitational waves that caused a sensation when it was announced in March could be weaker than researchers thought, according to a cosmologist, adding to rumours questioning the work that have been circulating in recent days.

The observation recorded by the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole and announced in March would confirm a popular theory that the Universe ballooned from subatomic to macroscopic size during the first tiny fraction of a second of its history.

Gravitational waves generated by this cosmic 'inflation' would make their presence known by polarizing the thermal radiation left over from the Big Bang — the cosmic microwave background (CMB) — in a particular swirling pattern known as B-modes. But dust in the Milky Way scatters microwaves with a similar pattern, and this galactic effect must be identified and subtracted to reveal the primordial fingerprint.

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