Gravitational waves discovery now officially dead

I tweeted this yesterday, but it deserves a blog entry: Gravitational waves discovery now officially dead : Nature News & Comment.

A team of astronomers that last year reported evidence for gravitational waves from the early Universe has now withdrawn the claim. A joint analysis of data recorded by the team’s BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole and by the European spacecraft Planck has revealed that the signal can be entirely attributed to dust in the Milky Way rather than having a more ancient, cosmic origin.

So, that’s that then.  As many will point out, this doesn’t mean the idea of observing primordial gravitational waves is dead, but it does remove what it would have implied (evidence for cosmic inflation, bubble universes, etc) back into speculative science, at least for now.  As someone who replied to my tweet said: science at work.

Most astrophysicists continue to believe that cosmic inflation is real, but of course, most astrophysicists before 1998 believed that the expansion of the universe was slowing, that it was only a matter of determining by how much it was slowing.  The discovery of dark energy caused a massive reset in those beliefs.  It awaits to be seen whether the beliefs about inflation will eventually require a similar reset.

12 thoughts on “Gravitational waves discovery now officially dead

    1. Thanks Steve. I’m still battling with shoulder problems, which has been leaving me somewhat unmotivated to be active online. But I’ve got multiple doctor appointments this week, so maybe there will be progress soon.

      Agreed on the BICEP2 situation. It would have been cool to have inflation confirmed. Maybe one of the other experiments will discover something.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Anyway, before stating a definitive gravitational origin again, one can put some questions, for instance, which is the probability that within a galaxy like the Milky way, from the aged dust of its exploded stars, the living being who theorizes and uses computers was formed – computers included? A favourable case among infinite unfavourable possibilities? Fifty-fifty? To be or not to be, is that the question? Are calculations simplified or made more complex when the subjective self of each one is the entity that is studied? So, what is the relationship between life and immense numbers? Is life a folding process of infinity, a singular wrinkle in space? Is it just something infinite that would have enough to allow a self, something isolated but of infinite or divine claims? But, is infinity credible within something with a beginning, out of a Big Bang? And is it credible within something with an ending, with the inevitable death around the corner? Along these lines, there is a book, a preview in Just another suggestion


  2. This, for me, is great news! It still leaves open a tiny window on the idea that Einstein and GR are correct and QFT needs to be revised. (Well, we know QFT needs to be revised somehow, but all work is focused on quantum gravity. I don’t want quantum gravity; I want smooth gravity!)

    (Note: It’s not the gravity wave part — even GR predicts gravity waves — but the quantized gravity that came along with the BICEP2 result.)


    1. Does the quantized gravity part come in from the gravitational waves comes from quantum fluctuations? Just checking.

      I’m totally Switzerland on which theories need to eventually be modified; I tend to suspect that both of them will eventually. Both have enormous empirical support, so either or both will be modified in only the most extreme circumstances (such as black holes or the big bang).


      1. Yep, exactly.

        I think you’re probably right both theories will ultimately be modified somehow. It is weird that two conflicting theories are the two scientific theories most tested successfully to an awful lot of decimal places.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. You appear to be reacting to the title of this post rather than its contents. It’s about the BICEP2 claimed discovery of primordial gravitational waves from the earliest instances of the big bang. It would have provided evidence for both gravitational waves and cosmic inflation. Sadly, it remains dead.

      I noted the LIGO discovery of gravitational waves in my latest post. It’s a historic achievement. But it doesn’t show what the BICEP2 discovery, if it had held, would have shown. (Although it may herald techniques that might eventually provide that evidence.)


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