Big bada boom. Bada booms don't come much bigger than the Big Bang that is believed to explain how the early universe started, some 14 billion years ago, give or take a couple of weeks. Given that this is hardly recent news, why am I blogging about it now? Well, that's because there's been a new wrinkle discovered.


I'm not about to get heavy into science or math here, don't worry. I don't understand it myself. To briefly summarize, the Big Bang theory, the one without Sheldon, posits that in the beginning, the universe was a very tight, dense spot of stuff which fit into a teeny tiny place where you couldn't even park a Smart car. Then, Something Happened. Science still doesn't know exactly what happened, but the universe itself started to expand, and the primordial stuff started to become more of the stuff we know today, like atoms of the heavier elements and pop music.


One of the best pieces of evidence for the Big Bang is what's referred to as the cosmic microwave background which essentially is the oldest light in the universe. Immediately after the big bang, stuff was so dense that light couldn't pass through anything. After a time, the universe had spread out a bit, and light was no longer blocked by bits of matter. That light has been traveling ever sense, and that is what we detect as the cosmic microwave background.


I now want to focus on the concept of the universe itself expanding, because this is where the news comes into the picture. The universe expands. Points in space are getting further away from each other, not just because they might actually be moving away from each other, but because space itself is stretching. Imagine putting two dots on the surface of a balloon and then inflating it. As it fills with air, the two dots move further apart even though neither one leaves the part of the balloon they were put on. The expansion of space is vastly more complicated than that, but it's good enough for us.


And now the payoff. Scientists have discovered variations in the microwave background due to polarization effects, such as how polarized sunglasses can reduce the sun's glare. These variations can be mapped backwards such that it can be shown they were tiny variances back near the Big Bang, and over time they've expanded into much larger structures. Cosmic stretch marks, if you will. Something to keep in mind is that these marks were imprinted on the universe a mere fraction of a second after the Big Bang.


There's a lot more to this discovery. The polarization that I mentioned? It was caused by gravitational waves, which have long been theorized to exist, but no actual evidence for them has been found, until now. This could provide insights into dark matter, how it's spread and how it affects the visible universe, among many other things.


This is really pretty neat stuff. There's still a peer review process to be done, though, where other scientists review the work of this team, look for problems in it and determine the validity of it. Assuming it passes that review, it seems like mentioning the phrase “Nobel prize” is not unreasonable.