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Radiolab and Physicists, On The Same Wavelength

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 03:05 PM

Down at the South Pole, the BICEP2 array stares out at the cosmos (BICEP2 Project)

Unless you were hidden under a rock yesterday, you probably heard the news -- scientists made a potentially Nobel prize winning discovery, announcing the first ever detection of gravitational waves.

What does that mean?

These waves are marks, imprinted in the early cosmos that, if verified, are evidence the universe did indeed go through a period of rapid expansion in the moments after the Big Bang. That idea of rapid expansion is a theory referred to as cosmic inflation.

Evidence for this expansion has eluded scientists for almost 30 years, so the news released yesterday -- by BICEP2, an team working on a telescope down at the South Pole, but led by John M. Kovac over at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics -- is really exciting.

In fact, it's doubly exciting for us here at Radiolab, because for the last two weeks, we've also been wrestling to understand what happened in the early universe -- from quantum fluctuations to supercooling -- as part of our latest podcast, Super Cool. (But, you know, our wrestling was sans telescope. And physics degrees.) And all these ideas physicists were talking to us about, it turns out, are pretty critical to yesterday's BICEP2 news.

Now, we had no idea that the news was breaking (not even producer Molly Webster, whose tight-lipped brother-in-law is a scientist on BICEP2), but we think it's pretty cool that we just might, if only for two weeks, have been thinking about the same things as super cool (haha!) scientists.

Obviously, that's all to say: go listen to our podcast. :)

And then you can come back here to learn more about yesterday's big announcement by checking out these videos and articles...

Nature journal breaks it down with a beach analogy worth listening to:

 

The New York Times throws in a lot of narrative history, and directly points out supercooling connections.

Brian Greene, physics-explainer extraordinaire, simplifies over at the World Science Festival.

And this wouldn't be a blockbuster movie without some tears -- watch world-renowned physicist Andrei Linde get the news that cosmic inflation theory, something he (along with others) predicted 30 years ago, just might have been shown to be true....

 

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