“Our telescopes have continued to take data at an ever-increasing rate and sensitivity,” Kovac says, “and the uncertainties have continued to narrow.”
The competition is heating up, too, with parallel searches underway at the South Pole Telescope (SPT) next door to BICEP, plus a host of observatories in Chile. Plans to extend the search into the Northern Hemisphere are also proceeding. “We know what is needed to make progress,” Kovac adds. “People are excited, perhaps more so than ever.”
We’re on the verge of a new era in physics and cosmology once again — but this time, the excitement is tempered with a sense of humility and a demand for heightened, unassailable rigor.
Searching Dawn’s Early Light
The cosmic microwave background (CMB) consists of residual light from the Big Bang that permeates all space. The photons comprising this almost-uniform radiation background are the universe’s oldest, having journeyed nonstop for nearly 14 billion years.
The CMB offers a powerful way to study the cosmos, and astronomers have scrutinized it with steadily mounting precision ever since its discovery a half-century ago. The results have been consistent with “cosmic inflation,” a 1979 theory positing that the universe underwent a brief period of explosive growth in its earliest moments after the Big Bang. This violent expansion supplied the driving force behind the Big Bang, laying the foundation for the galaxies and other celestial structures we see today.