The discovery of primordial ripples in space-time is exciting. But does it really herald a new era for cosmology?
A signal from the beginning of the universe, detected at the end of the Earth. To find the faint marks left by gravitational waves on the big bang's afterglow, physicists had to hunker down at the South Pole; one heroic researcher endured three harsh Antarctic winters in succession.
The BICEP2 team's efforts were rewarded this week, when they announced to mass acclamation that they had indeed found those marks. Their finding supports inflation – the idea that the universe "boomed" briefly in its infancy – which in turn hints that our universe may be only one of many (see "Multiverse gets real with glimpse of big bang ripples"). It is a champagne moment for physicists, made all the sweeter because many felt it would never come.
Should we all drink to their triumph? It somewhat resembles the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012. In both cases, the researchers knew what they were looking for, guided by precise theory and earlier results. While the Higgs result was a triumph for the particle's discoverers, it mostly confirmed what we already knew, providing little food for future thought.
Will this latest finding fall similarly flat? Certainly, once the brouhaha has died down we will probably find that it hasn't moved us on terribly far – particularly as long as it remains unconfirmed by other experimenters.To read more, click here.