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BICEP2 Physicists Hedge Bets on Big Bang Inflation Findings

Months after physicists reported evidence of Big Bang inflation, they acknowledged their results could have been skewed by dust in the Milky Way.
Image: South Pole experiment
The 10-meter South Pole Telescope and the BICEP (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) Telescope are silhouetted against the Milky Way.Keith Vanderlinde / NSF

Months after scientists announced they had found a gravitational-wave pattern supporting the view that the universe began with a tremendous Big Bang burst of inflation, they acknowledged in their revised paper that the pattern could have been caused by dust in our own Milky Way galaxy. The galactic-dust issue had sparked a dust-up among critics who said the physicists behind the BICEP2 experiment at the South Pole made their initial claims too hastily.

In a peer-reviewed paper published online Thursday by Physical Review Letters, the BICEP2 scientists formally laid out their evidence but acknowledged they could not "exclude the possibility of dust emission bright enough" to explain the pattern they saw. Physical Review Letters published an editorial noting the extraordinary nature of the case, along with a series of online commentaries. The next data release from the Planck mission, expected in October, should settle the controversy.

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