TECH
14/05/2014 12:02 BST | Updated 14/05/2014 12:59 BST

Cosmic Inflation Discovery 'Flaw'? Blogger Claims 'Holy Gail' Methodology Error

It was hailed as the 'holy grail' of physics, and immediately deemed worthy of a Nobel Prize.

… Not so fast.

Rumours are emerging -- just gossip at this stage, mind -- that there may be a problem with the discovery of the first direct evidence of cosmic inflation.

cosmic inflation

Above: 'swirls' in the cosmic microwave background, signs of gravitational waves

Back in March, it was announced that ripples in the fabric of space known as gravitational waves had been identified by a specially designed telescope at the south pole - BICEP2.

Like a cosmic tsunami, these waves were generated when the universe suddenly exploded into existence almost 14 billion years ago.

Scientists believe the cosmos expanded at an enormous rate - faster than the speed of light - in the first tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang.

The theory, called "inflation", is used to explain why the universe today is so remarkably uniform.

But now a blogger ('Résonaances') and physicist working at CERN, Adam Falkowski, reports that a fundamental methodological problem might through the findings into doubt.

Falkowski says that privately some scientists think the announcement was made too soon. The controversy revolves around a potential mis-interpretation of a map provided by the European Space Agency's Planck telescope. The team's task was to wipe clean this map of other sources of radiation, in order to find the background gravitational waves. The Planck map included some sources of light that the researchers at BICEP2 thought was dust or ash from exploding stars, Phys.org reports - but might have been something more significant.

"The rumors that have been arriving from the Planck camp were not encouraging," Falkowski said. "They were not able to confirm the primordial B-mode signal. It seems that experts now put a finger on what exactly went wrong in BICEP."

The issue could be serious, in that it could throw the whole method of the experiment into question.

For now the BICEP 2 team are defending their work and said that they stand by the conclusions. Clement Pryke, a cosmologist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and a co-principal investigator on the team, told Science Magazine that he stands by the work and earlier claims the team had admitted a mistake are wrong.

Unfortunately there will be no quick answers - the team's work is currently under review by various groups and that analysis won't be ready for some time. Also important will be the release of Planck's own map of the Cosmic Microwave Background, which could reproduce the BICEP result.... Or not.