A Window on the Universe’s Distant Past and Future

Today’s announcement of the detection of primordial gravitational waves is huge. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics gave a news conference in which it described the first ever detection of these waves which provides a window onto the very earliest stages of our universe. Gravitational waves were the last untested prediction of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Using a specialized telescope, the research group on the BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) project at the south pole gathered data which should only be observable from an event as massively violent as the Big Bang.

These primordial gravitational waves would’ve been generated a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, during a period known as cosmological inflation. The inflation period would’ve expanded the nascent universe many, many times faster than the speed of light and led to an extremely, yet not perfectly, smooth and uniform cosmos.

This evidence isn’t only a direct window onto the very earliest stages of the formation of our universe, it gives us new tools for studying it. Additionally, it provides major support for what’s known in physics as the Standard Model. This indicates our understanding of the cosmos is very much on track, even though there is still much for us to learn.

So why is this important to futurists? After all, this all occurred an unfathomably distant time in the past. But because this evidence allows us to more accurately model our universe’s past, it will also let us better understand it’s most distant future. As a result of today’s discovery, the evolution and ultimately the fate of our universe can be far better anticipated than ever before. It’s a discovery that many consider worthy of a Nobel prize.

(I explore the BICEP2 project and cosmic inflation in greater detail in my upcoming article, “Making Waves in the Cosmos” in the July-August 2014 issue of The Futurist Magazine.)