Trace Dominguez: We proved the Big Bang! We proved the Big Bang!
Dr. Ian O'Neill: Actually, that's not what we did.
Trace Dominguez: We didn't? Oh.
Dr. Ian O'Neill: Mm-mm.
Trace Dominguez: We spotted gravitational wave fingerprints! We spotted ... is that better?
Dr. Ian O'Neill: Mm.
Trace Dominguez: Howdy, everyone. I'm Trace, and I am here with Dr. Ian O'Neill, Space Producer from discoverynews.com, and this is a special weekly Space Update. Welcome.
Dr. Ian O'Neill: Thank you.
Trace Dominguez: Monday was a crazy day. People were excited. They were celebrating, and not just because of St. Paddy's day, but because of a discovery in the field of astronomy.
Dr. Ian O'Neill: Right. So, it's been theorized for a long time that the Big Bang was followed by a rapid expansion of the universe, called the inflationary period, which accelerated the expansion of the universe faster than the speed of light. So it grew in size in a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a nanosecond, billions and billions and billions of times faster than the speed of light. But for the Big Bang theory to actually work, you had to have that inflationary period. And there's been some observational evidence for it, and one of them is the cosmic microwave background radiation.
Trace Dominguez: Yeah, and so this is all in cosmic inflation theory. So the idea that everything in the universe is expanding from the moment the Big Bang happened, and it's all expanding away from everything else, and at the edge of our observable universe is cosmic microwave background radiation, or what we sometimes call CMB. It's sort of like a leftover heat signature from the Big Bang, right?
Dr. Ian O'Neill: Like an echo. Now, this is where things start to get really exciting. There's a very sensitive telescope near the South Pole called BICEP2, and it's set up to look at this CMB, to actually look for polarization signatures in this afterglow of the Big Bang. And that is predicted – well, it's theorized – that this polarization change, these little squiggly patterns in the cosmic microwave background radiation, are actually caused by gravitational waves.
Trace Dominguez: OK. So, the gravitational waves which were predicted in Einstein's General Theory of Relativity ...
Dr. Ian O'Neill: Yes.
Trace Dominguez: ... if I recall correctly, and they're ripples in space-time. So, like, something giant hits something else giant, like, I don't know, two black holes.
Dr. Ian O'Neill: Two black holes. You get them smashing together, and they produce these waves that ripple away at the speed of light. And they should be detectable, but, unfortunately, up until now we haven't been able to directly detect these gravitational waves that are supposed to pervade the entire universe.
Trace Dominguez: Wow.
Dr. Ian O'Neill: We should be able to detect them, but we can't find them. One of the biggest discoveries with the BICEP2 telescope is the fact we've found observational evidence that these gravitational waves do exist in the CMB. But, even more exciting, it kind of ties into a few physics paradoxes that we've been questioning for quite a few years ...
Trace Dominguez: OK. OK.
Dr. Ian O'Neill: ... and these gravitational waves could have quantum origin.
Trace Dominguez: I don't know what that means, but it sounds fancy.
Dr. Ian O'Neill: To explain, grab the balloon, Trace.
Trace Dominguez: Got it. Got it. Balloon.
Dr. Ian O'Neill: This is our balloon model of the universe.
Trace Dominguez: It's very small.
Dr. Ian O'Neill: This is around the time of the Big Bang. We've got a little lonely graviton just here. He's inside, just after the Big Bang occurred. He's jumbling around in the universe. And so, basically, this balloon represents the universe. As it expands, the graviton, as you can see, is getting stretched. And if you think of this as the cosmic microwave background, what was once a graviton is now expanded with the fabric of the universe to a modern-day equivalent of a gravitational wave.
Trace Dominguez: Cool!
Dr. Ian O'Neill: So this is what we mean by gravitational waves having a quantum origin, in that just after the Big Bang, these quantum-sized gravitons expanded, and 14 billion years later in our current universe ...
Trace Dominguez: We're just now finding them.
Dr. Ian O'Neill: ... we're just seeing them, actually, in the furthest most limits of the universe.
Trace Dominguez: OK. But before the commenters get to asking, where is this gravity coming from?
Dr. Ian O'Neill: Well, this is the really exciting thing for me, is that this is potential evidence for, you know, a quantum origin for these gravitons. And this ties into some questions that physicists have had for many decades: How does gravity fit in with the quantum world? So, this BICEP2 result actually gives suggestive evidence that perhaps these gravitational waves come from a quantum origin, which means gravity has a quantum state.
Trace Dominguez: Hm.
Dr. Ian O'Neill: Although we're still looking for further evidence for this, this is at least an indication that round around the time of the Big Bang, these gravitons did exist, and perhaps they interacted with matter on quantum scales.
Trace Dominguez: Very cool. So, scientists have discovered super-strong evidence of the Big Bang ...
Dr. Ian O'Neill: Mm-hmm.
Trace Dominguez: ... and the inflation theory. And they found gravitational waves, and they potentially found the first observational proof of quantum gravity, all at once.
Dr. Ian O'Neill: As an astronomer, all in a day's work.
Trace Dominguez: Can we use any of this information to find out what happens, like, you know, to socks lost in the dryer or anything?
Dr. Ian O'Neill: No.
Trace Dominguez: Oh. So there's not a lot of practical application at this point?
Dr. Ian O'Neill: No practical use for it, I'm afraid, Trace.
Trace Dominguez: Well, scientists still, you know, are pretty good, I guess. Thanks for watching DNews, everybody. Let us know what you think. And, hey, do you want to watch DNews on the go and possibly win a cool prize? Because we are giving away a DVD box set of "Life on Earth." Just go to the first link in the description and download the app from the iTunes Store. Bonus points to people that rate the app and leave a review, as well. Then comment below. Let us know that you did, or you can come tweet at us at DNews. Thanks for watching, everybody. See you.There may be small errors in this transcript.