As many of you know already, we’re expecting some very significant news Monday, presumably from the BICEP2 experiment. The rumors seem to concern a possible observation of “B-mode polarization in the cosmic microwave background radiation”, which, to the person on the street, could mean:
- strong evidence that inflation occurred in the early universe,
- strong evidence against certain alternatives to inflation,
- a rough measurement of how much dark energy was present during inflation and
- consequently a rough measurement of how hot the universe became when inflation ended.
It would also be cool for at least one other reason: it would be yet another indirect detection of gravitational waves, which are predicted in Einstein’s theory of gravity (but not Newton’s), just as electromagnetic waves were predicted by Maxwell’s theory of electricity and magnetism. Note, however, it would not be the first such indirect detection; that honor belongs to this Nobel-Prize-winning measurement of the behavior of a pair of neutron stars which orbit each other, one of which is a pulsar. (Attempts at direct detection are underway at LIGO.)
Of course, it’s possible the rumors aren’t correct, and that the implications will be completely different from what people currently expect. But the press release announcing the Monday press conference specifically said “significant discovery”, so at least it will be interesting, one way or the other.
If you have no idea, or a limited idea, of what I just said, or if you’re not sure you have all the issues straight about the universe’s history and what “Big Bang” means, fear not: I have written the History of the Universe, designed for the non-expert. Well, not all of the history, or all of the universe either, but the parts you’re going to want to know about for Monday’s announcement. Those of you who are still awake are invited to read what I’ve put together and send comments about the parts that are unclear or any aspects that look incorrect. I’ll have another post in the morning hours, and then the big announcement takes place just after noon, East Coast time.