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A team of astronomers that last year reported evidence for gravitational waves from the early Universe has now withdrawn the claim.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.