(Steffen Richter)

A team of astronomers released what’s being called a monumental discovery this week about the origins of the universe. Using telescopes at the South Pole, scientists discovered gravitational waves they say prove that the universe expanded rapidly, less than a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Scientists are calling the discovery “smoking gun” evidence of a theory known as inflation that experts have been trying to prove for 35 years. We look at the discovery and its significance for science.

Guests:
Andrew Fraknoi, chair of the Astronomy Program at Foothill College
Chao-Lin Kuo, assistant physics professor at Stanford University
Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University; author of "The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos" and "The Elegant Universe;" and co-founder of the World Science Festival and WorldScienceU
Leonard Susskind, Felix Bloch professor of physics at Stanford University and author of "The Black Hole War" and "The Cosmic Landscape"

  • menloman

    Take a bow Monseigneur Georges Lemaitre–‘Father’ of the Big Bang. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Lema%C3%AEtre

    • thucy

      Terrific link. De Grootste Belg, indeed! I wonder if Lemaitre’s move into the priesthood was influenced by his WWI service. Horrific gore, that war.
      Contrary to stereotype, bring a priest certainly doesn’t appear to have hindered his ability to contribute significantly to our understanding of the physical universe.

    • Guest

      This just proves my point that the Big Bang theory was always an attempt by believers in the Invisible Man Theory (religion) to transform science into pseudo religion.

      • menloman

        And as well for some scientists to ignore Lemaitre for fear that it would bolster his religion. I refer to Hoyle.

        • Guest

          This doesn’t contradict me. Hoyle coined the term Big Bang as a pejorative and call it pseudoscience.

          • menloman

            Of course. That’s why I wrote ‘And as well…’.

    • menloman

      Fraknoi’s bizarre comment that ‘even the pope’ accepted the big bang ignores the fact that a Catholic priest–Georges Lemaitre–was the first person to propose the big bang theory. Similarly, saying that even Einstein’s wife accepted his theories isn’t exactly the main news. Perhaps Fraknoi isn’t all that smart when it comes to the history of his profession.

      • M J

        Oh, well, he is not the only one to forget that. A lot of people know Lemaitre invented the theory, few know that he was a Catholic priest teaching at a Catholic university. But it is at least obvious to people who look him up in Wikipedia.

  • Kishore Hari

    Great lineup! Excited to listen to this conversation. Hope Michael bones up on his math.

  • Guest

    More big bang nonsense. Cosmologists too often want to turn their observational, non-experimental science into a pseudo religion, with a definite designed starting date and presumably ending date and always the possibility of a creator. There is no rational reason to buy into this. I would accept that perhaps there was a local big bang, but there is no scientific reason to think that beyond the limits of our telescopes there was not always an infinite expanse of space and that in that expanse, other big bangs have happened at other times stretching back forever. We should see the effort to “prove” expansion of the (local part of the) universe for what it is: Wishful thinking by humans who are trying to inject irrational religious gobbledygook into science or, just as bad, to personally stand out to boost their careers.

    • Robert Thomas

      No.

      • Guest

        So articulate, Rob!

        • Robert Thomas

          Sufficiently.

    • Sean Dennehy

      Literally all of modern physics disagrees with you.

      • Guest

        Literally all of modern religion disagrees with me.

        • Robert Thomas

          He is a rock
          He is an island

          • Guest

            What is that, a 1950’s quotation?
            Most of my fellow atheists could say religion disagrees with them too. And many people don’t buy the big bang theory, either.

          • Robert Thomas

            They are the self-referential words of an extremely talented but painfully jejune twenty-three-ish-year-old, written probably in 1964. In recent years, he has offered them as an illustration of his then childish immaturity.

            They made it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, in Spring 1966.

            John Donne begged to differ, of course.

    • Chemist150

      It’s like being in a church as an atheist gay, you’re arguing against dogma and bigotry that defines their beliefs.

      The polarization can represent an outwardly spiraling Universe and our relation within that spiral much like a galaxy does where the outer edges travel away from the center faster than the inner parts. The dogma is that their idea are derived from concepts of spacetime and that continues to be elusive to direct measurement by projects like LIGO. Negative data is real data despite their denials. The fact that is can and most likely is reflective of a spiraling system does not mean or discount a “big bang” but their assumption is that it does represent the Big Bang, more dogma.

      I agree that the rational belief would take small steps from known to known. There are too many assumptions here from point A to B.

    • ArnoldLayne

      What *is* an infinite expanse of space, please give a specific definition. What is ‘stretching back forever’, specifically – and what happened before that?

  • Robert Thomas

    Journalists, please STOP using the words “proof” and “prove” when reporting news such as this.

    Using these words damages science and science education.

    How much effort will it take to explain that “proofs” are objects of mathematics and not objects of scientific inquiry?

    As well as a lay person like me understands this announcement, it’s a report that the observations are strongly consistent with those predicted using Guth’s mechanism, providing clear and convincing evidence that his explanation of the very early universe is correct. This is very impressive news!

    These observations aren’t “proof” of anything.

    • Guest

      Observational science like cosmology doesn’t “prove” anything. Experiments confirm hypotheses until a different hypothesis provides deeper insight. Observational “science” doesn’t use the scientific method.

      If you aren’t using the scientific method, it’s not real science.

      • Robert Thomas

        I understand this argument and it’s not trivial. Scientific inquiry proceeds, you’ll agree, through the possibility of our imperfect reason being able to organize our imperfect observations in such a way as to suggest consequent behavior of the world currently unobserved.

        Sometimes the conditions for precipitating (or failing to precipitate) such consequent behavior can be achieved in the laboratory. Are the same kinds of inquiry that result from the development of the models of verisimilitude with the world I described above able to suggest consequent behavior in, for example, geological, paleontological, paleobiological or astronomical inquiry?

        I don’t think they can often usefully suggest consequent behavior. I do think that they can provide useful descriptions of the consequences of events. It takes judicious consideration to draw conclusions from the evidence of past events, obviously. Bias can easily effect how and where one looks, so as to make confirmation more likely. However, pragmatism strongly leads us to proceed in the same manner with these inquiries as we would when laboratory controls (themselves also not free from bias) are available. Imperfect protocols are no better reason for failing to follow rigorous scientific pursuit of the natural world than are imperfect observations or imperfect reason.

        • Robert Thomas

          Man, I confused myself more than usually while writing this.

      • M J

        I remember making a similar claim in another forum, a lot of people claiming to be professional scientists (I have no reason to disbelieve them) objected saying that they think of the observation itself as the experiment.

        Nor is this unreasonable: experimenters propose experiments based on hypotheses, rejecting or accepting it based on the results (usually of more than one experiment).

  • Chemist150

    A polarization in the background radiation could and mostly is an
    indication of an outwardly spiraling Universe much like a galaxy does
    and the polarization is an indication of our location within that
    outwardly progressing spiral. It’s not necessarily a result of
    “spacetime” which still eludes direct measurement unlike an outwardly
    spiraling system where the outer edges travel away from the center
    faster than the inner parts.

    When will cosmology come out of the dark ages of mythos and attribute observation to real phenomena?

    • Guest

      When they stop engaging in careerism and trying to be “rock stars” like computer nerds. Greed and hubris aren’t limited to Wall St and the Capitol.

    • Robert Thomas

      Chemist150 provides thoughtful, respectable commentary on chemistry.

      • Guest

        Robert provides commentary on the world according to Robert.

        • Robert Thomas

          Frank, what else can one do?

          However, touché.

          • Guest

            You should view your opinions as placeholders until better evidence or reasoning arrives. Like people who think 9/11 was done by 19 bogeymen, until they realize the building 7’s collapse on 9/11 was clearly a controlled demolition, therefore they have to revise all of their thinking.

  • Sean Dennehy

    How do you detect gravitational waves?

  • Kishore Hari

    Can your guest address how this discovery may lead to confirmation of magnetic monopoles?

  • Chemist150

    Gravity can be joined with quantum mechanics but it requires people to give up the notion of “Spacetime” as causality rather than a useful mathematical representation.

    localizedgravity.com

    • Robert Thomas

      Fun! Here’s more crackpottery:

      http://www.blazelabs.com/f-g-intro.asp

      Collect ’em all!

      • Chemist150

        The one you linked is not a mathematical model with verifications by joining mathematical models.

        The one I posted is a mathematical model based on known physics that produces the same results as other models that have yet to be verified by direct measurement such as spacetime failing to be proven by projects like LIGO.

        If you can argue against it, I’d be happy to engage you. If you simply slander, stand aside because it reveals your intellect.

        • Robert Thomas

          I’m reasonably satisfied with the way in which my intellect is revealed.

  • Robert Thomas

    A wave (pressure, transverse, torsional) can travel using a Slinky ™ as a medium.

    Bosons such as gravitons and photons require no medium.

  • jurban

    If time from the Big Bang to the Cosmic Inflation event (just verified by the recent BICEP-2 research) were stretched to happened at the period of 1 sec instead of 1X10^ -34 seconds, the remaining time to finish that relative second is 3.17×10^27 yrs. That much time is equivalent to the age of Universe (13.798 Billion) X 23 quadrillion. This gives you some perspective on how close we are to seeing the start of our Universe.

  • Linda

    Regardless of whether one is a believer or not, the unasked question is, “From what or Whom did the original matter come?” If the potential answer is,” a multi verse”, then from what or whom does the multi verse come? Boggles the imagination I think!

  • jurban

    If the amount of time from the Big Bang to this Cosmic Inflation event was equivalent to the thickness of a piece of paper, a 1 second stack of paper traverses the observable universe 2350 times. That’s how close we are to observing the beginning of time.

  • Jon Latimer

    What implications (if any) does this new data have on the possibly of gravitational based propulsion systems?

  • Jay Hanson

    Leonard mentioned that the universe doubled in size every 10 ^-35 (10 to the minus 35) seconds in the early inflation event. Is that a theoretical calculation or a measurement and how certain are we of that?

  • CFS

    What about dark energy and dark matter and how is this related to it? It is interesting to see that our theories that cannot explain their existence actually work so well with observations…

  • Brian Blaisch

    How do we get to the point that galaxies are formed and merge from the perspective of the inflationary expansion where space and matter are repelled so forcefully

  • Feeling so sorry for the high-level scientists having to explain things to laypeople. I’m picturing them all rubbing their temples and sighing.

    • Guest

      Are they Übermensch or something?

      • Are you the most antagonistic person ever? Not to mention obtuse. You *know* that what I mean is that it’s frustrating to explain basic tenets when you’re working on a high level. When I’m editing shitty copy, I feel frustrated by people who suck at writing. Someone better than me would feel the same about my writing. That’s a roughly analogous example.

    • jurban

      That’s why we value scientists like Sagan, Tysson and Kaku. We know we’re a bunch of apes grovelling over our keyboards in wonder. 🙂

      • Guest

        Insulting humanity won’t prove any gods exist.

    • Chemist150

      Don’t put yourself below them.

  • Pluteski

    To become accepted by science, physical theories must be predictive. Do physicists believe that these mathematical models, which map onto concepts we can imagine like particles and waves, actually model physical reality, or do they tend to think in purely abstract mathematical terms ?

  • Sushant

    Great job by Stanford team! And such ensemble of physics giants to answer the queries. My question is what does this discovery entail for unified theory?

  • Steve

    Great panel, and discussion. One of the guests mentioned that the rate at which space is inflating is decreasing over time. That is, space was doubling in volume every fraction of a second after the big bang, but it is doubling now only over tens of billions of years. This seems to allow the possibility that eventually, the universe may stop expanding altogether, and perhaps even start collapsing into a Big Crunch. But this seems in opposition to what I’ve heard about dark energy causing our universe to spread apart faster and faster. I’m writing this after the show is over, so could some physicist out there help me out with this?

    • Robert Thomas

      My lay understanding of this is that that while the rapid inflationary period was brief and ended at 10E-35s, that the universe nevertheless continues to expand at a rate somewhat faster than conventional models predict. The various flavors of the inflation mechanism conclude with a universe right on the cusp of “criticality” (describing a globally “flat” universe in a balance between expansion and contraction). In general, I don’t think that expansion due to inflation and the mysterious but relatively leisurely expansion due to “dark energy” are thought to be closely related. The difference in intensity between their effects is about 27 orders of magnitude.

      • Steve

        I researched this online. It turns out the current consensus is that the rate of inflation of the universe decreased gradually after the big bang until about 7.5 billion years ago, at which point it began to increase again, due to dark matter/energy. And the current belief is that it will increase forevermore.
        (I tried to include two URL’s for reference, but this comment system wouldn’t let me include them.)

        • Robert Thomas

          This isn’t exactly my understanding. The rate of expansion became ginormous soon after the Big Bang, from the start of the “inflationary epoch” at 10E-36s – and it kept expanding but MUCH more slowly after inflation ended at about 10E-32s. If you re-word your summery to say “…the rate of expansion of the universe decreased gradually after the end of the inflationary period until about 7.5 billion years ago…” it would correspond with my understanding. Guth’s “inflationary epoch” was very early and very short of duration. The observations are reported to be in close agreement with “inflation” mechanism predictions. That’s the news.

          A rate of expansion is a second derivative; saying that the rate of the rate of change in size was negative is not the same as saying that there was contraction, obviously. The detail you report about the inflection at ~7.5B years seems well supported in writing for general readers like me.

          Among the milestone events seem to have been these:

          1) 0: inaugural event
          2) from 10E-36s until 10E-32s: “inflation”; faster-than-light manifold expansion
          3) ~10E-3s: baryons form
          4) leisurely expansion moderated by gravitational attraction of baryons + dark matter; d^2s/dt^2 is negative
          5) 7.5BY – 8.5BY: continued expansion reaches inflection (d^2s/dt^2 goes positive) because dark matter density is halved each time the universe doubles in size but dark energy density is constant
          6) ~13.8BY: now

          http://bicepkeck.org/media/History-of-the-Universe-BICEP2.jpg

          Nevertheless, the rate of expansion before OR after the dark energy inflection is (so far) minuscule compared to the rate of expansion during (2) above (by tens of orders of magnitude). I don’t think the “inflation” mechanism and the “negative pressure” mechanism of accelerated expansion due to dark energy are thought to be related.

  • kas

    A little late, but I’d love to know how this impacts are understanding of black holes.

  • menloman

    Apparently, KQED moves comments up or down according to what they want to favor or disfavor rather than sorted by when it was first posted. Note that my initial comment has a timestamp indicating it was the first post. Now the top post is several hours later. What gives KQED?

    • Steve

      Each user can set how comments are sorted. I sort mine Oldest First, and your comment still appears on top.

      • menloman

        Thanks for correcting me.

  • menloman

    Fraknoi’s comment that ‘even the pope’ accepted the big bang sidesteps the fact that a Catholic priest was the first person to propose the big bang theory. Similarly, saying that even Einstein’s wife accepted his theories isn’t exactly news. Perhaps Fraknoi isn’t all that smart when it comes to the history of his profession.

  • M J

    One thing that is clear is that though Susskind and Greene are the deservedly more famous physicists, Fraknoi is a much better explainer.

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