Today a major discovery in astrophysics has been announced by a research collaboration named BICEP2 which raised lots of interest, attention, and discussion in the science community as well as in public. Here is the way that I would summarize the whole story to my grand mom:
1. Question: What they have discovered?
Answer: A strong evidence for the existence of gravitational waves coming all the way from the very early stages of the universe i.e. just after Big Bang explosion!
More details: Using a modern telescope located at south pole, they have found another strong evidence for existence of GWs by studying the polarization of CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) data. This is another indirect detection of GWs but not the first one. The first (indirect) detection was made by Hulse and Taylor (Nobel Prize winners of 1993) from a binary pulsar source while this recent experiment has detected the signature of GWs from the very early stages of the universe i.e. just after the Big Bang. Compared to the Hulse-Tayor’s Binary Pulsar, in this case GWs are coming from completely different sources! Remember, we have not detected GW directly yet. This is what LIGO/VIRGO and other interferometric GW detectors are supposed to do in the next few years: the first direct detection of GWs…
2. Why is it important?
Answer: This is the first time that we have observed the signature of GWs from the Big Bang! It’s quite exciting, isn’t it? It also supports our early scenarios of the early universe and quantum gravity specially the Big Bang and Cosmic Inflation… In addition, if the results get confirmed by future experiments and the result holds up, it gives us an unprecedented view of the earliest moments in the history of the universe.
3. Should we celeberate now?
Answer: Yes, but not too much! Because (1) Looking at the same thing (polarization of CMB in B-modes), soon, several similar experiments will come out with new data/results. So it’s better to wait a bit and see the confirmations/disconfirmations… This is how science works! (2) A much bigger party is on the way: LIGO! In which we will be able to directly detect GWs from compact binary systems for the first time. LIGO will not only directly detect GWs but also will open a completely new branch of astronomy i.e. GW Astronomy; in which we can measure the physical parameters of the astronomical objects like sky-position, mass, spin, etc that we might not even be able to measure by other instruments such as optical-, radio-, x-ray-, and gamma-ray-detectors.
Grandma! You should survive against gravity and stay tuned until the first detection announcement of LIGO in the next few years… Then we can totally celebrate testing the last untested piece of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity: Gravitational Waves!