A scientific paper hailed across the globe as ‘smoking gun’ evidence for the theory of cosmic inflation was probably wrong, a leak reported by the BBC has suggested.
The landmark discovery was first announced in March 2014. Using data from the BICEP-2 telescope in Antarctica, researchers said they had found characteristic patterns in cosmic microwave background - the leftovers of the Big Bang - which supported the idea of very rapid expansion in the earliest moments of the universe.
But after a year of growing scepticism, it’s looking more like the discovery is not what it appeared.
Known as ‘B-modes’, these swirls of polarisation were thought to be critical indicators of the theory of inflation, and how the structure of the universe had been prefigured as early as 10 to the minute 35 seconds into the universe’s life. These B-modes are incredibly slight - and finding them relies on being able to filter out interference from across the sky, including distant galaxies altering the path of light to Earth.
Unveiled by a team led by John Kovac, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, this evidence suggested the BICEP-2 team had done exactly that. And the result was frontpage news across the globe.
A summary of a paper put together with the US-led team assessing the discovery was put online by mistake, reports the BBC - and seems to suggest the news is bad.
The paper will not be released until next week, but the summary says that the BICEP-2 team was mistaken. Without dust data compiled by the Planck space telescope, it was unable to accurately tell whether the pattern it found were B-mode signals.
The result, it appears, is that the Planck and BICEP-2 teams will now have to more or less start again, working together to once again attempt to filter the signal from the noise.