Stunning astronomical discovery vanishes in cloud of dust reports: It is the announcement no one wanted to hear: The most exciting astronomical discovery of 2014 has vanished. Two groups of scientists announced today (Jan. 30) that a tantalizing signal — which some scientists claimed was “smoking gun” evidence of dramatic cosmic expansion just after the birth of the universe — was actually caused by something much more mundane: interstellar dust.

In the cosmic inflation announcement, which was unveiled in March 2014, scientists with the BICEP2 experiment, claimed to have found patterns in light left over from the Big Bang that indicated that space had rapidly inflated at the beginning of the universe, about 13.8 billion years ago. The discovery also supposedly confirmed the existence of gravitational waves, theoretical ripples in space-time.

But in a statement today, scientists with the European Space Agency said that data from the agency’s Planck space observatory has revealed that interstellar dust caused more than half of the signal detected by the Antarctica-based BICEP2 experiment. The Planck spacecraft observations were not yet available last March when the BICEP2 science team made its announcement. [Continue reading…]

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