Webb detects carbon in early galaxy, far earlier than expected

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers using the Webb Space Telescope have detected evidence of carbon in a galaxy estimated to exist only 350 million years after the Big Bang, much sooner than any theory had predicted such an element could have developed.

“We were surprised to see carbon so early in the universe, since it was thought that the earliest stars produced much more oxygen than carbon,” said Maiolino. “We had thought that carbon was enriched much later, through entirely different processes, but the fact that it appears so early tells us that the very first stars may have operated very differently.”

According to some models, when the earliest stars exploded as supernovas, they may have released less energy than initially expected. In this case, carbon, which was in the stars’ outer shell and less gravitationally bound than oxygen, could have escaped more easily and spread throughout the galaxy, while a large amount of oxygen fell back and collapsed into a black hole.

The paper is available here.

The scientists are struggling to explain this result in the context of the Big Bang theory itself, and have come up with scenarios where it will work. However, the fact that Webb has found another data point suggesting the early universe was more complicated than any model predicted increases the difficulty in producing Big Bang models that will work.

All in all, there remains great uncertainty here. This particular observation required 65 hours of observation time. Pulling real data from these very distant points of light remains quite challenging.

Astronomers find another record-setting most distant galaxy

The uncertainty of science: Using the Webb Space Telescope, astonomers have identified another record-setting most distant galaxy, believed to exist only 300 million years after the Big Bang and once again far more massive and developed than expected that early in the universe.

The galaxy was actually one of two very early galaxies identified that lie close to each other on the sky but are not linked in any way.

The two record-breaking galaxies are called JADES-GS-z14-0 and JADES-GS-z14-1, the former being the more distant of the two. In addition to being the new distance record holder, JADES-GS-z14-0 is remarkable for how big and bright it is. “The size of the galaxy clearly proves that most of the light is being produced by large numbers of young stars,” said Eisenstein, a Harvard professor and chair of the astronomy department, “rather than material falling onto a supermassive black hole in the galaxy’s center, which would appear much smaller.”

The combination of the extreme brightness and the fact that young stars are fueling this high luminosity makes JADES-GS-z14-0 the most striking evidence yet found for the rapid formation of large, massive galaxies in the early Universe.

All the early galaxies that Webb has found so far have been far more massive and developed than cosmologists had predicted. The expectation had been that there wouldn’t have been enough time after the Big Bang for such galaxies to develop. Yet they have, suggesting something is not right with our theories about the beginning of the universe.

Scientists claim discovery of most distant supermassive black hole yet

The overwhelming uncertainty of some science: Using data from the infrared Webb Space Telescope, scientists are now claiming they have discovered most distant supermassive black hole yet, sitting at the center of an active galaxy only about a half billion years after the Big Bang. From the press release:

The galaxy, CEERS 1019, existed just over 570 million years after the big bang, and its black hole is less massive than any other yet identified in the early universe. Not only that, they’ve easily “shaken out” two more black holes that are also on the smaller side, and existed 1 and 1.1 billion years after the big bang. Webb also identified eleven galaxies that existed when the universe was 470 to 675 million years old. The evidence was provided by Webb’s Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science (CEERS) Survey, led by Steven Finkelstein of the University of Texas at Austin. The program combines Webb’s highly detailed near- and mid-infrared images and data known as spectra, all of which were used to make these discoveries.

CEERS 1019 is not only notable for how long ago it existed, but also how relatively little its black hole weighs. This black hole clocks in at about 9 million solar masses, far less than other black holes that also existed in the early universe and were detected by other telescopes. Those behemoths typically contain more than 1 billion times the mass of the Sun – and they are easier to detect because they are much brighter. (They are actively “eating” matter, which lights up as it swirls toward the black hole.) The black hole within CEERS 1019 is more similar to the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, which is 4.6 million times the mass of the Sun. This black hole is also not as bright as the more massive behemoths previously detected. Though smaller, this black hole existed so much earlier that it is still difficult to explain how it formed so soon after the universe began.

I have great doubts about this research, especially because the press release makes no effort to explain how the black holes were identified. Black holes emit no light, and were only first confirmed by watching the orbits of stars or objects near them over long periods of time. More distant supermassive black holes in the center of galaxies were later guessed at by what appears to be the relationship between the size of a galaxy’s nucleus and the presence of a black hole. Astronomers also assume that a very active and energetic galaxy (such as a quasar) is a sign a supermassive black hole exists at the center.

These primitive galaxies have only been observed at most a handful of times. They are so distant that they only are at most a few pixels wide. Spectra from these objects can tell us roughly how far away they are, and thus how close to the Big Bang they are thought to be, but it is impossible to say with any certainty that there is a black hole there.

I am made even more skeptical by this press release claim: “Webb’s data are practically overflowing with precise information that makes these confirmations so easy to pull out of the data.” Such language makes me suspicious that there is an underlying effort to justify Webb’s expense with this release by overstating its capabilities.

The press release provides links to the research. Take a look. I’d be glad if someone could clearly show me why I’m wrong to be so doubtful.

Scientists: Quasar data shows time running five times slower in the early universe

The uncertainty of science: According to new research using data from almost 200 quasars collected over the two decades, scientists now believe they have detected the difference between the rate of time now and as we see it in the early universe.

“Looking back to a time when the universe was just over a billion years old, we see time appearing to flow five times slower,” said lead author of the study, Professor Geraint Lewis from the School of Physics and Sydney Institute for Astronomy at the University of Sydney. “If you were there, in this infant universe, one second would seem like one second – but from our position, more than 12 billion years into the future, that early time appears to drag.”

…Professor Lewis worked with astro-statistician Dr Brewer to examine details of 190 quasars observed over two decades. Combining the observations taken at different colours (or wavelengths) – green light, red light and into the infrared – they were able to standardise the ‘ticking’ of each quasar. Through the application of Bayesian analysis, they found the expansion of the universe imprinted on each quasar’s ticking.

“With these exquisite data, we were able to chart the tick of the quasar clocks, revealing the influence of expanding space,” Professor Lewis said.

These results further confirm Einstein’s picture of an expanding universe but contrast earlier studies that had failed to identify the time dilation of distant quasars. [emphasis mine]

I have highlighted the word “exquisite” because it is a favorite buzzword of scientists when they are trying to oversell conclusions that carry many uncertainties. As good as this data might be, it is still incredibly sparse, and the interpretation of it requires many assumptions.

Nonetheless, these results are likely correct, in some manner, because they match well with Einstein’s predictions. It is also most likely that there are many errors and incorrect aspects to those results that the scientists do not yet understand. Above all, confirmation bias remains a concern.

Galaxies at the dawn of time

Link here. The article takes a quick look at six galaxies found by Webb’s infrared view that all less than 650 million years after the Big Bang is thought to have occurred.

None disprove the Big Bang. All however raise serious questions about the cosmological theories that posit that event and the subsequent evolution of the universe. Take a look. It is worthwhile reading.

Host galaxies for two quasars in early universe detected for the first time

Quasar and host galaxy
One of the quasars, with its light subtracted on the right,
revealing the host galaxy. Click for original image.

The uncertainty of science: Using data from both the infrared Webb Space Telescope and the Subaru optical telescope in Hawaii, astronomers have observed for the first time the host galaxies of two quasars that formed less than a billion years after the Big Bang.

Just a few months after JWST started regular operations, the team observed two quasars, HSC J2236+0032 and HSC J2255+0251, at redshifts 6.40 and 6.34 when the universe was approximately 860 million years old, both of which were discovered using Subaru Telescope’s deep survey program. The relatively low luminosities of these quasars made them prime targets for measuring the properties of their host galaxies.

The images of the two quasars were taken at infrared wavelengths of 3.56 and 1.50 microns with JWST’s NIRCam instrument, and the host galaxies became apparent after carefully modeling and subtracting glare from the accreting black holes. The stellar signature of the host galaxy was also seen in a spectrum taken by JWST’s NIRSPEC for J2236+0032, further supporting the detection of the host galaxy.

Photometric analyses found that these two quasar host galaxies are massive, measuring 130 and 34 billion times the mass of the Sun, respectively. Measuring the speed of the turbulent gas in the vicinity of the quasars from the NIRSPEC spectra suggests the black holes that power them are also massive, measuring 1.4 and 0.2 billion times the mass of the Sun. The ratio of the black hole to host galaxy mass is similar to those of galaxies in the more recent past, suggesting that the relationship between black holes and their hosts was already in place 860 million years after the Big Bang. [emphasis mine]

Normally, quasars are so bright the host galaxy is obscured. Computer modeling that subtracted the quasar’s light produced the host galaxy image on the right.

The highlighted sentence raises intriguing questions again about the Big Bang. Webb is once again finding evidence that the early universe quickly became like today’s universe, much faster than expected by cosmologists.

Webb’s first deep field infrared image reveals hundreds of very early galaxies

The uncertainty of science: Using the Webb Space Telescope to take a 32-day-long infrared exposure, scientists have obtained the deepest deep field picture of the universe’s earliest time period, within which they have found more than 700 galaxies, 717 to be exact.

The initial survey of these galaxies appear to reveal several facts.

About a sixth of early galaxies in the JADES sample are in the throes of star formation of a kind we don’t see in the nearby universe, Endsley explains, marked by extremely bright emission at certain wavelengths. “Stars within very early galaxies are forming in these super-compact clumps,” he adds, “forming hundreds, perhaps thousands of these very massive, young stars all at once, basically within the span of a couple millions of years.”

But they weren’t “on” all the time. The low fraction of galaxies with such emission suggests that individual clumps would suddenly light up with new stars and then rest for some time. This “bursty” mode of star formation could explain the unexpectedly bright galaxies announced by other astronomers — they were simply looking at the galaxies fired up with unexpectedly intense star formation.

However, while these findings explain too-bright galaxies, they don’t explain the too-massive galaxies, another early, albeit controversial find from JWST data. Endsley explains that even as hot, massive newborn stars light up their galaxy, they’re not necessarily associated with all that much mass. “We’re not really finding evidence of these over-massive objects within our JADES sample,” he states.

In other words, this data appears to contradict earlier data from Webb that other researchers said revealed galaxies that were too massive and developed to have formed that soon after the Big Bang.

All of this data remains somewhat uncertain, and is based on only tiny tidbits of information, gleaned from mere smudges of red-shifted infrared light. Much more research will be required, some not possible by Webb, before we have any solid answers, and even then there is going to be a lot of uncertainty.

Astronomers make first radio observations of key type of supernova

The uncertainty of science: Using a variety of telescopes, astronomers have not only made the first radio observations of key type of supernova, they have also detected helium in the data, suggesting that this particular supernova of that type was still atypical.

This marks the first confirmed Type Ia supernova triggered by a white dwarf star that pulled material from a companion star with an outer layer consisting primarily of helium; normally, in the rare cases where the material stripped from the outer layers of the donor star could be detected in spectra, this was mostly hydrogen.

Type Ia supernovae are important for astronomers since they are used to measure the expansion of the universe. However, the origin of these explosions has remained an open question. While it is established that the explosion is caused by a compact white dwarf star that somehow accretes too much matter from a companion star, the exact process and the nature of the progenitor is not known. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted sentences are really the most important take-away from this research. Type Ia supernovae were the phenomenon used by cosmologists to detect the unexpected acceleration of the universe’s expansion billions of years ago. That research assumed these supernovae were well understood and consistently produced the same amount of energy and light, no matter how far away they were or the specific conditions which caused them.

This new supernovae research illustrates how absurd that assumption was. Type Ia supernovae are produced by the interaction of two stars, both of which could have innumerable unique features. It is therefore unreasonable as a scientist to assume all such supernovae are going to be identical in their output. And yet, that is what the cosmologists did in declaring the discovery of dark energy in the late 1990s.

It is also what the scientists who performed this research do. To quote one of the co-authors: “While normal Type Ia supernovae appear to always explode with the same brightness, this supernova tells us that there are many different pathways to a white dwarf star explosion.”

Forgive me if I remain very skeptical.

Webb finds another galaxy in early universe that should not exist

The uncertainty of science: Scientists using the Webb Space Telescope have identified another galaxy about 12 billion light years away and only about 1.7 billion years after the theorized Big Bang that is too rich in chemicals as well as too active in star formation to have had time to form.

SPT0418-SE is believed to have already hosted multiple generations of stars, despite its young age. Both of the galaxies have a mature metallicity — or large amounts of elements like carbon, oxygen and nitrogen that are heavier than hydrogen and helium — which is similar to the sun. However, our sun is 4.5 billion years old and inherited most of its metals from previous generations of stars that were eight billion years old, the researchers said.

In other words, this galaxy somehow obtained complex elements in only 1.7 billion years that in our galaxy took twelve billion years, something that defies all theories of galactic and stellar evolution. Either the Big Bang did not happen when it did, or all theories about the growth and development of galaxies are wrong.

One could reasonably argue that this particular observation might be mistaken, except that it is not the only one from Webb that shows similar data. Webb’s infrared data is challenging the fundamentals of all cosmology, developed by theorists over the past half century.

Webb spots massive galaxies in the early universe that should not exist at that time

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers using the Webb Space Telescope have identified six galaxies that are far too massive and evolved to have formed so quickly after the Big Bang.

The research, published today in Nature, could upend our model of the Universe and force a drastic rethink of how the first galaxies formed after the Big Bang. “We’ve never observed galaxies of this colossal size, this early on after the Big Bang,” says lead researcher Associate Professor Ivo Labbé from Swinburne University of Technology.

“The six galaxies we found are more than 12 billion years old, only 500 to 700 million years after the Big Bang, reaching sizes up to 100 billion times the mass of our sun. This is too big to even exist within current models.

You can read the paper here [pdf]. The “current models” Labbé is referring to are all the present theories and data that say the Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago. These galaxies, however, found less than a billion years after that event, would have needed 12 billion years to have accumulated their mass.

If confirmed, these galaxies essentially tell us that the Big Bang is wrong, or very very VERY incomplete, and that all the data found that dates its occurrence 13.7 billion years ago, based on the Hubble constant, must be reanalyzed.

It is also possible these galaxies are actually not galaxies, but a new kind of supermassive black hole able to form very quickly. Expect many scientists who are heavily invested in the Big Bang to push for this explanation. It might be true, but their biases are true also, which means that Webb is presenting us with new data that calls for strong skepticism of all conclusions, across the board.

Webb finding more galaxies in early universe than expected

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers using the Webb Space Telescope are finding in very early universe many more galaxies that are also far more developed then had been predicted.

The Webb observations nudge astronomers toward a consensus that an unusual number of galaxies in the early universe were so much brighter than expected. This will make it easier for Webb to find even more early galaxies in subsequent deep sky surveys, say researchers.

“We’ve nailed something that is incredibly fascinating. These galaxies would have had to have started coming together maybe just 100 million years after the big bang. Nobody expected that the dark ages would have ended so early,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California at Santa Cruz, a member of the Naidu/Oesch team. “The primal universe would have been just one hundredth its current age. It’s a sliver of time in the 13.8 billion-year-old evolving cosmos.”

Erica Nelson of the University of Colorado in Boulder, a member of the Naidu/Oesch team, noted that “our team was struck by being able to measure the shapes of these first galaxies; their calm, orderly disks question our understanding of how the first galaxies formed in the crowded, chaotic early universe.”

The galaxies are smaller, more compact than present day galaxies, and appear to be forming stars at a tremendous rate. Because their distances, presently estimated, still need to be confirmed by spectroscopy, these conclusions remain somewhat tentative though quite alluring.

We should not be surprised if in the next two years data from Webb will overturn almost all the theories that presently exist about the Big Bang and its immediate aftermath.

The earliest galaxy so far seen?

Earliest galaxy?

Scientists using the James Webb Space Telescope now think they have identified a galaxy formed only 330 million years after the Big Bang.

The red smudge in the centre of this image [to the right] is thought to be a galaxy with a redshift of around z=13, as seen by the NIRCam instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope. This redshift estimate is based on photometry so the object remains a candidate rather than a confirmed high-redshift galaxy, but if confirmed spectroscopically this would be the highest-redshift galaxy yet observed.

You can read the research paper itself here [pdf]. The galaxy is actually very young, and its nature, along with a second also described by the research, appears to contradict expectations. From the paper’s abstract:

These sources, if confirmed, join GNz11 in defying number density forecasts for luminous galaxies based on Schechter UV luminosity functions, which require a survey area > 10× larger than we have
studied here to find such luminous sources at such high redshifts. They extend evidence from lower redshifts for little or no evolution in the bright end of the UV luminosity function into the cosmic dawn epoch, with implications for just how early these galaxies began forming. This, in turn, suggests that future deep JWST observations may identify relatively bright galaxies to much earlier epochs than might have been anticipated. [emphasis mine]

In other words, this early data from Webb suggests that galaxies formed much faster than expected after the Big Bang. This either means all the theories describing the Bang are wrong, or that it might not have even happened.

Today’s blacklisted American: Scientists questioning Big Bang theory protest censorship of their work

Webb's first deep field image
Nothing in Webb’s first deep field image shall be questioned, by anyone!

While the blacklisting described in today’s column has little to do with left vs right politics, it demonstrates clearly that the desire to silence dissent is now culturally pervasive across many fields. In science it has become especially toxic, as this story clearly shows:

Twenty-four astronomers and physicists from ten countries have signed a petition protesting the censorship of papers that are critical of the Big Bang Hypothesis by the open pre-print website arXiv. Run by Cornell University, arXiv is supposed to provide an open public forum for researchers to exchange pre-publication papers, without peer-review. But during June, 2022, arXiv rejected for publication on the website three papers by Dr. Riccardo Scarpa, Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, and Eric J. Lerner, LPPFusion, Inc. which are critical of the validity of the Big Bang hypothesis.

…[quoting the petition] “Without judging the scientific validity of the papers, it is clear to us that these papers are both original and substantive and are of interest to all those concerned with the current crisis in cosmology. It plainly appears that arXiv has refused publication to these papers only because of their conclusions, which both provide specific predictions relevant to forthcoming observations and challenge LCDM cosmology [the standard dark matter/dark energy Big Bang hypothesis]. Such censorship is anathema to scientific discourse and to the possibility of scientific advance.

“We strongly urge that arXiv maintain its long-standing practice of being an “open-access archive” of non-peer reviewed “scholarly articles” and not violate that worthy practice by imposing any censorship. Instead, we encourage arXiv to abide by its own principles, and publish these three papers and others like them that clearly provide ‘sufficient original or substantive scholarly research’ results and are of obvious great interest to the arXiv audience.”

Lerner and Scarpa had attempted to get their papers published in a peer review journal and had been stymied, apparently because the topic of their paper was inappropriate for that journal. They then decided to publish on arXiv, which has for almost three decades been open to the publication of all scientific papers written by credentialed scientists, as noted at the website:
» Read more

Conflict in Hubble constant continues to confound astronomers

The uncertainty of science: In reviewing their measurements of the Hubble constant using a variety of proxy distance tools, such as distant supernovae, astronomers recently announced that their numbers must be right, even though those numbers do not match the Hubble constant measured using completely different tools.

Most measurements of the current acceleration of the universe (called the Hubble constant, or H0) based on stars and other objects relatively close to Earth give a rate of 73 km/s/Mpc. These are referred to as “late-time” measurements [the same as confirmed by the astronomers in the above report]. On the other hand, early-time measurements, which are based on the cosmic microwave background emitted just 380,000 years after the Big Bang, give a smaller rate of 68 km/s/Mpc.

They can’t both be right. Either something is wrong with the standard cosmological model for our universe’s evolution, upon which the early-time measurements rest, or something is wrong with the way scientists are working with late-time observations.

The astronomers are now claiming that their late-time observations must be right, which really means there is either something about the present theories about the Big Bang that are fundamentally wrong and that our understanding of early cosmology is very incomplete, or the measurements by everyone are faulty.

Based on the number of assumptions used with both measurements, it is not surprising the results don’t match. Some of those assumptions are certainly wrong, but to correct the error will require a lot more data that will only become available when astronomers have much bigger telescopes of all kinds, in space and above the atmosphere. Their present tools on Earth are insufficient for untangling this mystery.

Astronomers detect water in the very very early universe

The uncertainty of science: Using the ALMA telescope in Chile, astronomers have detected the molecules of water and carbon monoxide in a galaxy thought to have formed only 780 million years after the Big Bang.

SPT0311-58 is actually made up of two galaxies and was first seen by ALMA scientists in 2017 at its location, or time, in the Epoch of Reionization. This epoch occurred at a time when the Universe was just 780 million years old—roughly 5-percent of its current age—and the first stars and galaxies were being born. Scientists believe that the two galaxies may be merging, and that their rapid star formation is not only using up their gas, or star-forming fuel but that it may eventually evolve the pair into massive elliptical galaxies like those seen in the Local Universe.

“Using high-resolution ALMA observations of molecular gas in the pair of galaxies known collectively as SPT0311-58 we detected both water and carbon monoxide molecules in the larger of the two galaxies. Oxygen and carbon, in particular, are first-generation elements, and in the molecular forms of carbon monoxide and water, they are critical to life as we know it,” said Sreevani Jarugula, an astronomer at the University of Illinois and the principal investigator on the new research. “This galaxy is the most massive galaxy currently known at high redshift, or the time when the Universe was still very young. It has more gas and dust compared to other galaxies in the early Universe, which gives us plenty of potential opportunities to observe abundant molecules and to better understand how these life-creating elements impacted the development of the early Universe.”

Need I say that there are many uncertainties with this result, including the assumption that the universe is only 780 million years old at location of this galaxy. That age is extrapolated from the galaxy’s red shift, a link that depends on some uncertain assumptions. Moreover, the discovery of these molecules so soon after the theorized Big Bang is unexpected. Cosmologists had assumed that at this early age the universe wasn’t old enough yet to form galaxies with such complex molecules.

Galaxies in the early universe don’t fit the theories

The uncertainty of science: New data from both the ALMA telescope in Chile and the Hubble Space Telescope about six massive galaxies in the early universe suggest that there are problems and gaps in the presently accepted theories about the universe’s formation.

Early massive galaxies—those that formed in the three billion years following the Big Bang should have contained large amounts of cold hydrogen gas, the fuel required to make stars. But scientists observing the early Universe with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Hubble Space Telescope have spotted something strange: half a dozen early massive galaxies that ran out of fuel. The results of the research are published today in Nature.

Known as “quenched” galaxies—or galaxies that have shut down star formation—the six galaxies selected for observation from the REsolving QUIEscent Magnified galaxies at high redshift. or the REQUIEM survey, are inconsistent with what astronomers expect of the early Universe.

It was expected that the early universe would have lots of that cold hydrogen for making stars. For some galaxies to lack that gas is inexplicable, and raises questions about the assumptions inherent in the theory of the Big Bang. It doesn’t disprove it, it simply makes it harder to fit the facts to the theory, suggesting — as is always the case — that the reality is far more complicated than the theories of scientists.

Astronomers chart the universe’s slow death

Using data gathered from more than 200,000 galaxies, astronomers have been able to measure the slow decline in the universe’s energy output since the Big Bang.

The fact that the Universe is slowly fading has been known since the late 1990s, but this work shows that it is happening across all wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the infrared, representing the most comprehensive assessment of the energy output of the nearby Universe. “The Universe will decline from here on in, sliding gently into old age. The Universe has basically sat down on the sofa, pulled up a blanket and is about to nod off for an eternal doze,” concludes Simon Driver.

I wish to note the significant uncertainty of this result. While this result is important and does strongly suggest that the universe is dying, 200,000 galaxies is hardly a significant representation of the universe’s galaxy population.

Gravitational wave/inflation discovery literally bites the dust

The uncertainty of science: The big discovery earlier this year of gravitational waves confirming the cosmological theory of inflation has now been found to be completely bogus. Instead of being caused by gravitational waves, the detection was caused by dust in the Milky Way.

Even while the mainstream press was going nuts touting the original announcement, I never even posted anything about it. To me, there were too many assumptions underlying the discovery, as well as too many data points with far too large margins of error, to trust the result. It was interesting, but hardly a certain discovery. Now we have found that the only thing certain about it was that it wasn’t the discovery the scientists thought.

Nor is this unusual for the field of cosmology. Because much of this sub-field of astronomy is dependent on large uncertainties and assumptions, its “facts” are often disproven or untrustworthy. And while the Big Bang theory itself unquestionably fits the known facts better than any other theory at this time, there remain too many uncertainties to believe in it without strong skepticism.

Some scientists are now calling into question the BICEP2 results that confirmed the existence of inflation just after the Big Bang.

The uncertainty of science: Some scientists are now calling into question the BICEP2 results that confirmed the existence of inflation just after the Big Bang.

The biggest discovery in cosmology in a decade could turn out to be an experimental artifact—at least according to an Internet rumor. The team that reported the discovery is sticking by its work, however.

Eight weeks ago, researchers working with a specialized telescope at the South Pole reported the observation of pinwheel-like swirls in the polarization of the afterglow of the big bang, or cosmic microwave background (CMB). Those swirls are traces of gravitational waves rippling through the fabric of spacetime a sliver of a second after the big bang, argue researchers working with the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2) telescope. Such waves fulfilled a prediction of a wild theory called inflation, which says that in the first 10-32 seconds, the universe underwent a mind-boggling exponential growth spurt. Many scientists hailed the result as a “smoking gun” for inflation.

However, scientists cautioned that the result would have to be scrutinized thoroughly. And now a potential problem with the BICEP analysis has emerged, says Adam Falkowski, a theoretical particle physicist at the Laboratory of Theoretical Physics of Orsay in France and author of the Résonaances blog. The BICEP researchers mapped the polarization of the CMB across a patch of sky measuring 15° by 60°. To study the CMB signal, however, they first had to subtract the “foreground” of microwaves generated by dust within our galaxy, and the BICEP team may have done that incorrectly, Falkowski reports on his blog today.

When the BICEP2 result was announced, the media went crazy over it. I however didn’t even post anything about it, as I know from experience that cosmological results such as this are very tentative and require confirmation. Too often, they turn out to be false results, with the scientists in charge fooled by the uncertain nature of their data.

The results from BICEP2 might still hold up. We need to wait a bit longer to find out.

Cosmologists, using new data, are now reconsidering their theories on the manner in which the universe began organizing itself after the Big Bang.

The uncertainty of science: Cosmologists, using new data, are now reconsidering their theories on the manner in which the universe began organizing itself after the Big Bang.

Scientists call it the epoch of reionization, the period in which a newborn universe went from darkness to light as the first stars, galaxies and black holes began forming and radiating energy.

In a paper published Thursday in Nature, researchers are challenging one long-held conception about how quickly the universe began warming during this transition period. Based on observations of X-ray emissions from binary star systems, as well as new mathematical models, cosmologists at Tel Aviv University and Harvard say that heating of the universe progressed much more slowly, and uniformly, than previously thought.

One scientist’s modeling of the early universe suggests to him that intelligent life could have evolved as early as 15 million years after the Big Bang.

Theories! One scientist’s modeling of the early universe suggests to him that intelligent life could have evolved as early as 15 million years after the Big Bang.

This is fun stuff, but entirely theoretical and not to be taken very seriously. We know with certainty as much about the early universe as a mouse understands Shakespeare. To predict accurately the nature or even existence of life at that time is stretching our knowledge considerably.

Astronomers have found a dozen supernovae taking place closer to the Big Bang than ever detected.

Astronomers have found a dozen supernovae taking place only a few billion years after the Big Bang.

[The results suggest that these types of supernovae] were exploding about five times more frequently 10 billion years ago than they are today. These supernovas are a major source of iron in the universe, the main component of the Earth’s core and an essential ingredient of the blood in our bodies.

The most distant quasar ever found

Astronomers have found the most distant quasar ever, and are baffled by its existence.

The light from the quasar started its journey toward us when the universe was only 6% of its present age, a mere 770 million years after the Big Bang, at a redshift of about 7.1 [3]. “This gives astronomers a headache,” says lead author Daniel Mortlock, from Imperial College London. “It’s difficult to understand how a black hole a billion times more massive than the Sun can have grown so early in the history of the universe. It’s like rolling a snowball down the hill and suddenly you find that it’s 20 feet across!”