Not long ago scientists detected the existence of gravitational waves, the first direct evidence of the Big Bang. Now, thanks to astronomers at MIT and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, we now can see what the Big Bang and its aftermath may have looked like.
Yesterday, the internet was abuzz with rumors about today’s scheduled announcement from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Many people predicted — correctly, as it turns out — that the announcement would involve the detection of gravitational waves. What’s so important about these waves? Well, they’re the first direct evidence we’ve ever found of the Big Bang and the resulting expansion of the universe.
For a long time now, scientists have been looking for gravitational waves using the BICEP telescope (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization), but in the noise of all the cosmic microwaves, they hadn’t been able to find them…until now. The discovery has, ironically, been called the “holy grail of cosmology,” and some predict this discovery to garner a Nobel Prize.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a gift that keeps on giving. The number of cosmic discoveries scientists have made with the help of the Hubble keeps growing, and each addition more awesome than the last. Recently, astronomers at the Keck observatory in Hawaii confirmed the Hubble’s discovery of the oldest and most distant galaxy known to man. So far, anyway.
The z8_GND_5296 galaxy—which I’ll refer to as the Gandalf galaxy, since it clearly needs a catchier name—has a mass of about one billion suns, less than two percent of that of the Milky Way, but it seems to be popping out stars like it’s received the best fertility treatments ever. Gandalf produces about 330 solar masses each year, which is approximately 100 times more than the Milky Way. Scientists believe this production may be related to the Gandalf’s high gas content, or that it might be hoovering the excess gas that exists in the interstitial spaces between galaxies.
Space enthusiasts, listen up: some astrophysicists believe that the Big Bang may be bunk. You didn’t expect that theory to stick around forever, did you? It may yet, but it now has another theory to contend with—that the Universe was formed by a star collapsing into a black hole.
The Big Bang theory (sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not and won’t be referring to the show) essentially posits that the Universe was created by a singularity, or an explosion from a point of infinite density. The thing is, no one knows what caused the Big Bang—no computation or physical law (that we know of) can account for it, especially since time didn’t exist before the Universe’s creation. But it’s a question that has lingered on the minds of some scientists. Niayesh Afshordi of Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics says, “For all physicists know, dragons could have come flying out of the singularity.” Oh man, I hope that’s true. And even if it’s not, I’m going to cling to that idea, or at least to that image.