Most of us had at least partial problems while watching the BICEP2 press conference on Monday. I urge the dear readers to find some time and watch these 60 minutes again (or for the first time):
The important event was very smoothly recorded and posted by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. In my opinion, the number of views of this video – below 1,770 at this moment – is totally inadequate for a discovery of this magnitude.
Someone introduces the speakers – including one "dispassionate external cosmologist", Marc Kamionkowski – and then the boss of BICEP John Kováč starts to talk and introduce the team. If the discovery is true, I surely believe that he is the first person who deserves the experimental (part of the) Nobel prize. If Planck manages to confirm the discovery, I would find it unthinkable for the Planck people to share the prize because they simply don't deserve it.
Note that Kováč (or Kovač) is a Slavic – well Czech (or Yugoslav) surname meaning (and playing the same role as the frequent English surname) Smith. I guess that he has some Croat, Serbian, or Slovenian roots. It is so popular name that even its version imported to Hungary – Kovács – became the most frequent surname in all of Hungary.
At any rate, Kováč shows some nice pictures from the South Pole and presents the heroic experimenters, both senior and junior ones, who have spent years with this work that seems to have ended by a happy end. Once Kováč completes his sociological and likable comments, the physicist who has surprised Andrei Linde with the great news in a touching video begins to cover "the part of the talk that has already been covered pretty well by all the rumor websites". ;-)
Incidentally, the Chinese expression for "the man who almost made Linde cry" is Chao-Lin Kuo. Apologies to him for a silly joke. :-) To apologize, let me thank Willie Soon [that's a Malaysian name at Harvard-Smithsonian] and link to this fun bio of Kuo and his family.
Rumors often surface and we get excited about them. Sometimes, the official truth turns out to be disappointing – and I would agree that it was the case of AMS and LUX (although we didn't really have positive rumors in the latter case). But the Higgs boson at CERN and now BICEP2 are examples of stories in which the rumors turned out to be accurate. That's the main reason why I don't ignore rumors in general. They just work very well way too often. We should better listen to them – and we should better be cautious while using them in certain ways, too.
You may say that the discipline inside the BICEP-KeckArray Collaboration wasn't good if it allowed the news to escape on Friday, three days before the press conference. But that would be a totally unfair appraisal. In fact, the discipline and secrecy in the experiment has been extraordinarily spectacular. Adam Mann of Wired discusses a rather spectacular story about how the signal was emerging and was kept in secret already from 2012 or so. That's quite a long time to keep your mouth shut!
Chao-Lin Kuo sketches the cosmic inflation and the existence of gravitational waves in that era of the life of the cosmos and he quickly switches to their method to see the waves. At 10:21, you may see that the symbol for the curly gravitational waves is a swastika. It may look unpopular but it is clearly the most natural symbol for that pattern, anyway, and the Nazis have stolen the symbol so they shouldn't be allowed a monopoly in reproducing it.
The vertical and horizontal parts differ by 1 part in 30 million or so only. It is a small signal but a detectable one.
Jamie Bock of Caltech speaks from 15:00 or so, focusing on the architecture of the telescope. BICEP2 is 10 times faster than BICEP1. Superconductivity helps. Clem Pryke of Minnesota shows pictures of the polarization lines in their "photograph" at 22:00 or so. Even the E-mode part of the picture would be exciting a few years ago. Now it's just background that prevents us from seeing the interesting stuff. Applause at 29:35.
Marc Kamionkowski, a top theorist and (among other things) a co-author of the important paper that divided the fluctuations to two component modes (see also Seljak-Zaldariaga who coined the E,B jargon instead of G,C), speaks afterwards. He proves he is independent from them because he doesn't have the nifty T-shirt that they only sell at the South Pole. He explains some of the detailed theory of inflation, why the scale seems to strengthen grand unification of forces etc. A fun speech. A presenter takes over at 33:00 or so and starts to take questions from the media – and then from e-mails.
What is \(r\)? It is the letter that follows \(q\). OK, it's the tensor-to-scalar ratio T/S and \(0.2\) is pretty big by the field's standards. One may see Alan Guth in the first row of the audience. Andrei Linde is on the right side. Writers from Nature, New Socialist etc. are asking. "Does the result answer what was before inflation, the multiverse etc.?" No one in our team is allowed to answer this question. :-) But Kamionkowski enjoys more freedom. The questions about the multiverse are not answered directly but the result narrows the set of allowed models so someone may figure out what it implies for the multiverse etc. An experimenter, Clem Pryke, says that "as an experimenter, he opposes theories that have no observable consequences." Laughter.
Fortunately, they have Kamionkowski over there (a very good idea to have a theorist in the panel so that the experimenters don't behave like naughty children!) who gets the last word and says that "as a theorist [another laughter], I must say that when inflation was proposed 30 years ago, it was a symbol of theoretical imagination" and some predictions could be tested, others couldn't, and the nosayers have seen their mouths shut. So... 20 years from now, people may perhaps hold another press conference in which they announce evidence for the multiverse.
Andrei Linde takes the microphone at 46:50. It wasn't clear from scratch that the inflation would bring the multiverse but in a year, it changed. The multiverse seems to be there, especially for detailed theories of inflation that seem to be favored by the data now. Alan Guth agrees – evidence for inflation pushes us to take the multiverse more seriously. (I would still like to stress that adopting the multiverse does not mean to accept the anthropic reasoning of any sort yet!)
The Boston Globe journalist asks (49:00) when they started to realize something was there, how they reacted etc. Gradual increase of confidence. The "falsifiable" experimenter Clem Pryke reveals some story and says he didn't believe the things (they would find something new) at heart. Beck adds comments. Kováč mentions the different kinds of skepticism that the data had to resist. An online question, why inflation strengthens the multiverse. Alan Guth explains that the inflaton has to have some stability for a while but it decays like the radioactive isotopes. He describes the competition between the "dying off" of the radioactive material and the exponential expansion of the surviving material.
Andrei Linde says that inflation is an exponential instability. An instability is something that can go wrong (albeit very right for us). If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong, repeatedly – like what we experienced in Russia, he says (laughter). Eternal inflation must be eternal.
A confused journalist says that "the fluctuation was 2 times as high as predicted" and asks what it means, Kováč debunks the assumption of the question. Clem Pryke suggests that the excess of \(r\) may be a statistical fluke around the South Pole, for example.
Stephen Hawking is already demanding the compensation from Neil Turok in one of these rare moments in which Hawking has apparently won a bet. Recall that he lost the $100 Higgs bet against Gordon Kane as well as the encyclopedia of basebell bet against John Preskill concerning the information loss. There's only one problem here: the Hawking-Turok bet explicitly talks about the confirmation of the B-modes by Planck, not by any experiment. So Turok may wait but he should surrender if (and as soon as) Planck confirms the BICEP's discovery. I am convinced that Turok should resign as the director of the Perimeter Institute before that. Concerning his painful calls for caution, I tell him: Tear down this wall of fog, Mr Turok.
A nine-minute tour to the BICEP2 at the South Pole (end of 2012).