Those ‘gravitational waves’ discovered back in March? Turns out it may just be dust.

The March Announcement

Back in March, a press conference was held at Harvard. At the press conference, physicists made what was then being called one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the young century.

Using the BICEP2 telescope near the South Pole, they said they had found evidence of gravitational waves – very tiny distortions in the universe’s gravitational field that provides evidence for part of the Big Bang theory. Many in the scientific community cheered the results. There were even rumblings of a Nobel Prize for the team.

Just Dust?

Not all were convinced. Some scientists began to express skepticism over the findings and said the discovery could be much simpler. Dust scattered throughout the galaxy.

Today, a new paper points to more dust throughout the galaxy than previously thought. A team of scientists using the Planck satellite discovered a lot more dust than expected. So much dust in fact, that it likely accounts for the signal discovered by the BICEP2 telescope.

This news doesn’t mean gravitational waves don’t exist, but it punches a big hole in the evidence the team from March used to say they do.

“We show that even in the faintest dust-emitting regions there are no ‘clean’ windows in the sky,” Jean-Loup Puget of the Astrophysical Institute in Paris, wrote in the paper.

The image below shows the area where BICEP2 focused on (the black box in the right image) and the higher amounts of dust in the area.

dust map

What’s Next

It’s important to note that today’s paper isn’t the final say on the matter. In fact, the team from the March discovery and the authors’ of today’s paper are joining forces to see what implications today’s paper has on the initial discovery. That assessment is expected to be released by the end of the year.

One plus side to the new dust map, is that now scientists can observe the area with the least amount of dust and see what’s out there.

Image credit: Harvard University/Steffen Richter


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