Scientists Leak that BICEP2 Gravitational Waves Have Been Officially Disproven
It looks like no one is winning a Nobel Prize for this one. After a long roller coaster ride, it seems that the BICEP2 observations that appeared to confirm the presence of gravitational waves, which would in turn confirm the Big Bang theory, have been officially debunked.
In March of last year, Harvard University announced that a team of astrophysicists had discovered evidence of gravitational waves, the "smoking gun" for the Big Bang theory. Later, an international team of researchers cast doubt on the BICEP2 conclusions, claiming that the data could have been the result of space dust. Now, Swinburne University astronomer Alan Duffy has released the results of a recent report via Twitter:
According to the Big Bang theory, our early universe went through a period of exponential expansion, or inflation. This cosmic inflation would have produced ripples in spacetime, or gravitational waves. These waves have long been theorized, but scientists had been unable to find any experimental evidence that they actually existed until BICEP2's study last March. Their discovery was hailed as groundbreaking, and confirmation of their conclusions following peer review would have changed the landscape of cosmology.
Unfortunately, they failed to take foreground dust into account when coming to their conclusions. BICEP2 detects gravitational waves by observing the polarization of the light, but nearby spinning dust can produce the same polarization as the theorized ripples in spacetime. While the BICEP2 team took most of the space dust into account when conducting their study, they didn't combine their research with that of the Planck space telescope, which can map the microwave sky at more frequencies than BICEP2 and has found evidence that there was a much higher level of dust contamination than they realized.
The new study that confirms the debunking of the BICEP2 data was briefly posted on Planck's official French website, but was almost immediately pulled, as the study is not scheduled to be released until next week. But, according to Duffy, once the high level of contamination is taken into account, the polarization levels are higher than usual, but not high enough to be meaningful: "There's a minor excess once our galaxy's dust contamination is removed by not statistically significant (above usual random fluctuations)."
He did concede, however, that the "excess" could still be the result of gravitational waves, we simply don't have enough information to come to that conclusion yet: "Sad day for cosmology but the hunt continues! Still could be a delicate fossil imprint of gravitational waves in afterglow of the Big Bang."