Update 12:00 p.m. EDT: The CfA conference website is down due to heavy traffic. The paper and initial details from BICEP can be viewed here. The results include a photo gallery that supports the gravitational waves theory.
News of an impending announcement about a "major discovery" by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) has set the international physics community abuzz. The live stream for the announcement begins on Monday, March 17, at 12 p.m. EDT, and many believe the discovery involves the detection of gravitational waves.
According to the Guardian, the CfA announcement will be about gravitational waves, or "ripples in space-time." Gravitational waves are emitted when two massive objects, such as neutron stars and black holes, circle one another in a binary system, causing them to get increasingly closer to one another until they collide and merge, according to the The LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC). Radio telescopes are used to indirectly observe the effects of gravitational waves via distortions in pulsars, as these neutron stars "blink" at a constant rate.
What the CfA researchers may have found are "primordial gravitational waves," dating back to the big bang and the beginning of the universe 14 billion years ago. Albert Einstein, in his General Theory of Relativity, first predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916, and MIT scientists noted that the last part of Einstein's theory has yet to be detected. These gravitational waves send energy throughout space, and they give researchers a look at how the universe was first formed.
If, for the first time ever, gravitational waves have been observed, it will mark a major milestone. Much like the excitement over the discovery of the Higgs boson, or "God particle," the observation of gravitational waves, if successful, could very well earn the team a Nobel Prize in Physics. Like the Higgs boson, gravitational waves have been theorized to exist, and while every indication points to their existence, detecting them has eluded all efforts so far.
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The equipment for the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP) experiment, which measures the cosmic microwave background that's comprised of leftover radiation from the Big Bang, is located in the South Pole. It may have detected the first signs of gravitational waves. Hiranya Peiris, from the University of London, told the Guardian that the discovery of gravitational waves would be "the Holy Grail of cosmology."
The announcement live stream begins at 11:55 a.m. EDT and can be viewed here. If available, the live stream will be embedded below.