By Dr. Hugh Ross
In March 2014, a South Pole research team reported that BICEP2 had detected gravitational waves and definitively proved that the universe experienced hyper-expansion (an inflation event) when it was extremely young.1 Such a momentous discovery, everyone agreed, was worthy of a Nobel Prize; however, it was not to be. In their zeal to be the first to find gravitational waves, the research team mistook a signal from cosmic dust for “primordial gravitational waves.” (See RTB’s coverage of the inflation drama here and here.)
The BICEP2 team’s confession that they had jumped the gun in announcing their “discovery” of gravitational waves led to several expressions of distrust of the scientific enterprise. It also caused many Christian writers to conclude that cosmic inflation is a myth and that the big bang theory is not all it is cracked up to be.2 These reactions motivated the BICEP2 team to release a paper in which they cautioned lay authors not to throw out the baby (inflation and the big bang creation model) with the bathwater (their premature announcement of discovering gravitational waves).3
The BICEP2 telescope is designed to detect the B-mode polarization signal of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR), the heat radiation that remains from the cosmic creation event. Once the background noise from cosmic dust is removed and, assuming the remaining signal is strong enough to be accurately measured, this B-mode signal will reveal to astronomers whether the universe experienced an inflation event very early in its history, and, if it did, exactly what kind of inflation event it experienced.
It turns out, however, that astronomers do not need the B-mode signal to prove whether or not the universe had an inflation event; that is possible with just the E-mode polarization signal. The E-mode signal is sufficient to determine the scalar spectral index (ns) of the CMBR spectrum. For a universe with no inflation event, ns equals 1.0 or greater. For a universe that had a simple inflation event, ns equals exactly 0.95. For a universe that has had a complex inflation event, ns equals 0.96–0.97.
Another telescope at the South Pole, the South Pole Telescope, is designed to measure the E-mode signal. The South Pole Telescope (SPT) research team just published their latest measurements…
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