The rapid inflationary period is theorized to have caused our universe to expand 100 trillion trillion times in a fraction of a second. Fascinatingly, any quantum-sized perturbation that existed at that time will have been rapidly inflated as the universe grew and astronomers have theorized that those tiny structures can be observed today as vast gravitational wave perturbations. But until the use of BICEP2, they thought these waves would be too weak to detect. It turns out that they were wrong.
"This has been like looking for a needle in a haystack, but instead we found a crowbar," said BICEP2 project collaborator Clem Pryke, of the University of Minnesota.
"The implications for this detection stagger the mind," said project co-leader Jamie Bock, physicist at Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "We are measuring a signal that comes from the dawn of time."
ANALYSIS: Cosmic Rebirth Encoded in Background Radiation?
Located in the arid atmospheric conditions of Antarctica, BICEP2 has a very clear view of the cosmos. The instrument has the ability of measuring the polarization of the weak signal from the CMB radiation. On Earth, sunlight can become polarized if it reflects off a mirror or when filtered by polarized sunglasses (thus reducing the glare). The radiation from the ancient CMB can also become polarized and gravitational waves have the ability to manipulate the polarization of the incoming radiation. The specific type of polarization, known as ‘B-mode polarization,' is what BICEP2 has been looking for. And now, with a high degree of certainty, astronomers have found it.