Scientists announced today (March 17) that they had found the first direct evidence of the dramatic expansion that created the known universe, known as cosmic inflation, or the “bang” in the Big Bang. This dramatic expansion is thought to have occurred in the first instants of existence, nearly 14 billion years ago, causing the universe to expand beyond the reach of the most powerful telescopes.
In 1979, a physicist named Alan Guth came up with the theory of cosmic inflation, and theorized that such an event would create ripples in space-time called gravitational waves. But their existence remained hypothetical. Today, a team of researchers said that they had detected these gravitational waves, using a telescope near the South Pole.
“This is huge,” Marc Kamionkowski, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who was not involved in the discovery but who predicted how these gravitational wave imprints could be found, told Scientific American. “It’s not every day that you wake up and find out something completely new about the early universe.” He added that the results looked good, although they would need to be verified by others to hold up.
The finding seems to support the idea that the observable universe is only one of many, as the New York Times reports:
Confirming inflation would mean that the universe we see… is only an infinitesimal patch in a larger cosmos whose extent, architecture and fate are unknowable. Moreover, beyond our own universe there might be an endless number of other universes bubbling into frothy eternity, like a pot of pasta water boiling over.
As the Times tells it, Andrei Linde, who first described the most popular variant of inflation, known as chaotic inflation, in 1983, was about to go on vacation in the Caribbean last week when a colleague named Chao-Lin Kuo knocked on his door with a bottle of Champagne to tell him the news.
Hear Linde and Kuo tell the story themselves in this video: