Uros Seljak weighs in about the detection of gravitational waves

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Two UC Berkeley researchers recently published a paper challenging the results of a March study that claimed to have found evidence indicating that the universe exponentially expanded immediately after the Big Bang.

The paper, published on May 22, investigated the March study’s conclusions, which were based on data from a telescope at the South Pole called BICEP2. Co-authors Uros Seljak, a professor of physics, and Michael Mortonson, a postdoctoral scholar working with Seljak, found that the authors of the March study underestimated the interference caused by galactic dust. Their findings call into question the paper’s discovery of signals from primordial gravitational waves — waves that would support the theory of the universe’s initial rapid expansion.

The study is one of two recent analyses that challenged the March findings. Colin Hill, a co-author of the second analysis and a graduate student in the astrophysics department at Princeton University, noted the significance of the March study.

“It was a very important claim for physics as a whole,” Hill said. “It would have profound implications for our understanding of physics and cosmology. So we wanted to revisit the analysis.”

Mortonson, who re-examined the March study with Seljak, said the original findings were not necessarily incorrect. Their paper used data from the Planck space observatory and BICEP2 to conclude that the March results could also be explained by patterns caused by galactic dust.

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