Philip Ball writes: It was announced in headlines worldwide as one of the biggest scientific discoveries for decades, sure to garner Nobel prizes. But now it looks likely that the alleged evidence of both gravitational waves and ultra-fast expansion of the universe in the big bang (called inflation) has literally turned to dust.
Last March, a team using a telescope called Bicep2 at the South Pole claimed to have read the signatures of these two elusive phenomena in the twisting patterns of the cosmic microwave background radiation: the afterglow of the big bang. But this week, results from an international consortium using a space telescope called Planck show that Bicep2’s data is likely to have come not from the microwave background but from dust scattered through our own galaxy.
Some will regard this as a huge embarrassment, not only for the Bicep2 team but for science itself. Already some researchers have criticised the team for making a premature announcement to the press before their work had been properly peer reviewed.
But there’s no shame here. On the contrary, this episode is good for science. [Continue reading…]