Harvard Astronomers Behind Big Bang Discovery Might've Been Confused By Dust
Well, this is awkward. Remember that big scientific discovery in March? Turns out the Harvard astronomers behind the Big Bang discovery might've been confused. By dust. Yes, you read that right. Apparently dust from the Milky Way could've screwed up the scientists' measurements and may have impacted the results of the big revelation. Stupid Milky Way dust, amirite?
The announcement that the scientists could've erred has drawn criticism, because the findings were announced with a lot of pomp and circumstance and a great deal of confidence, which isn't what you'd usually expect from the ultra-cautious field of science. The discovery was essentially considered "proof," to the extent proof is possible in science, that cosmic inflation is a sound theory. The finding seemed to represent clear evidence for the Big Bang or cosmic inflation theory, which help explain how the gigantic universe has an even temperature.
John Kovac, a lead author of the original finding, told The New York Times that the scientists' latest admission that dust could've interfered with the measurements probably didn't mean much in the context of the larger proof scientists found.
The basic takeaway has not changed; we have high confidence in our results. ... (But) new information from Planck makes it look like pre-Planckian predictions of dust were too low.
Planck is the crazy-looking satellite pictured above, which helped detect the wild measurements that led to the big bang of an announcement.
The scientists go by the name Bicep, and they've endured a lot of speculation about their findings over the last few months. One member of the team, the University of Minnesota's Clement Pryke, sounded a little less confident than Kovac in talking to New Scientist.
Has my confidence gone down? Yes.
And another one, Harvard's Colin Bischoff, echoed that in an interview with the magazine.
We don't have a good handle on what the size of that dust signal is. We still maintain that our data favor a cosmological origin of the signal over a dust origin, but it's not as strong.
Basically, the scientists are worried because they don't know how to account for the uncertainty of the dust variable. The dust could've affected their results and have an impact on how confident they are in the result. Normally scientists know exactly how much that uncertainty is, and it plays a key factor in calculations. In this case, the dust would need to increase by a factor of three, according to The Times, to completely explain away the signal that of the Big Bang that scientists picked up on.
To be fair, scientists never really like uncertainty, so Pryke and Bischoff may just be doing what scientists do and being cautious. But having this whole thing derailed by a bit of space dust would make us feel really bad for Andrei Linde, the Stanford scientist who made the cosmic inflation theory his life's work.
This is how Linde looked when he found out the news that his life's work was a step closer to being proven:
Here's hoping that wasn't in vain.