New View Suggests Big Bang Inflation Claims Are Just Dust

Newly released observations from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite have dealt a heavy blow to purported evidence of the universe's post-Big Bang growth spurt. Back in March, the scientists behind the South Pole Telescope campaign — known as Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization, or BICEP2 — said they saw a pattern of polarized light that could be associated with an inflationary blast of gravitational waves. But as time went on, skeptics said the polarization could have been due to dust in our own Milky Way galaxy. The Planck team's latest results, posted to the ArXiv preprint website over the weekend and submitted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, suggest that dust indeed could have caused what the BICEP2 team saw.

BICEP2's scientists conceded in June that dust might be a factor; nevertheless, the Planck results provide a disappointing twist and a cautionary tale for those seeking evidence to back up inflationary Big Bang theory. Game over? Not quite. Planck and BICEP2 team leaders say they're collaborating on further data analysis and will publish a paper jointly.

How did the universe begin?



— Alan Boyle