Big Bang 'echoes' that proved Einstein correct might just have been space dust, admit scientists

Supposed gravitational waves may, in fact, have been caused by interference from the Milky Way

Science Editor

An experiment at the South Pole that was supposed to have captured indirect images of the primordial ripples in space-time created in the first fractions of a second after the Big Bang may have confused the signals from deep space with interference caused by galactic dust, scientists said.

The findings from the BICEP2 telescope in Antarctica last March created intense excitement among physicists because the results appeared to confirm the events that took place when the Universe expanded rapidly immediately after the Big Bang, during a period known as “inflation”, when the primordial ripples called gravitational waves were formed.

However, the astronomers behind the BICEP2 experiment appear to have failed to take into account the interference caused by the intervening dust from the Milky Way galaxy which may be strong enough to account for the supposed signals of gravitational waves, according to scientists working on data from another experiment based on analysing data from the Planck space telescope.

The confounding effect of galactic dust was not taken into account sufficiently enough, which raises doubts over whether the BICEP2 astronomers did after all detect the tell-tale signals of gravitational waves, said David Spergel of Princeton University, one of the co-authors of the Planck study.

“There’s no evidence for the detection of gravitational waves….It’s consistent with dust,” Dr Spergel told the journal Nature.

It is the second experiment to cast doubt on the BICEP2 findings. Other scientists who re-analysed BICEP2 data suggested that the effects of galactic dust had been underestimated.

 

Uros Seljak, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-author of the latest study, said: “Based on what we know right now…we have no evidence for or against gravitational waves.”

Albert Einstein first predicted the existence of gravitational waves more than a century ago when he formulated his theory of general relativity. However, no-one has been able to detect them despite a number of elaborate experiments on earth and in space designed to do it.

The BICEP2 telescope based at the South Pole, which is often described as the closest you can be to space without leaving the ground, was designed to measure the swirly patterns of polarised radiation from within the microwave background radiation, which is the faint glow from the Big Bang that pervades the entire Universe.

By doing this, BICEP2 gave scientists a glimpse of the ripples in the fabric of space time caused during the inflationary period of rapid expansion. This led them to announce in March that they had taken the first indirect images of primordial gravitational waves created in the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang.

“Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today,” said John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Massachusetts, a leading member of the BICEP2 team, when the results were announced.

However, the BICEP2 team is now having to revise its conclusions in the light of the finding from the Planck space telescope, which looked at another part of the sky and concluded that galactic dust could interfere with the supposed signals from the swirly “B-mode” polarised radiation of the microwave background.

“Unfortunately, the latest results complicate matters mainly because it seems that the foreground was not estimated in a proper way. What these guys in the BICEP2 team did was not to take this into account by not properly estimating its statistical significance,” said Professor Bangalore Sathyaprakash, a theoretical physicist at Cardiff University.

“It looks like doubts have been cast over the findings, but this is not the final word. What is important now is to get data in the sky from different channels because the missing thing is the lack of data to accurately estimate the foreground part of the sky and to take into account the effects of the galactic dust,” Professor Sathyaprakash told The Independent.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup