At a celebratory press conference in mid-March, a group of physicists gathered at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge to announce strong evidence supporting a more than three-decade-old theory about the dramatic expansion during the birth of our universe — the bang of the “Big Bang.”
After months of back-and- forth among scientists, the paper presenting those results was published on Thursday in the journal Physical Review Letters, but with an important caveat: the telltale signal that astronomers unveiled in March could have just been starlight scattering off of dust.
The Harvard-led team still thinks the measurement it took with a South Pole telescope was the curled polarization pattern of ancient light from the earliest moments of the universe — considered the smoking-gun evidence that the universe underwent a rapid, violent inflationary period of exponential expansion.
But they admit they can’t rule out the possibility that they might have measured polarization that was instead emitted by a more mundane source, galactic dust.
“Since we submitted this paper new information on polarized dust emission has become available,” wrote the authors, led by John Kovac, a Harvard astronomer.
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