Holy Mackerel its Tensor modes!!!

So today we saw announcement of the possible detection of tensor modes in the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation (CMB).


This is extremely significant as it gives us information which appears to be from closer to the big bang (time=zero, whatever you want to call it.  The bit we don’t understand.  I’m going to call it time zero) than anything else that has ever been observed.

So some background as to how this fits into our best guess of what is going on in the Early Universe – we think that at some very early time, some tiny fraction of a second after time zero the Universe expanded extremely rapidly during a period of Cosmological inflation.  Now there are many theories of inflation, the simplest ones happen over a period of about 10^-34 seconds but you could probably cook one up which took as long as 0.1 seconds if you were being really crazy and pushing everything to its limits.

What determines the timescale over which this happens depends upon the energy density during inflation, and you can’t tell what that is from the normal ripples in the CMB which give rise to galaxies etc.  However the energy density during inflation DOES lead to gravitational waves in the early Universe which affect the polarization of these microwave photons.  The new results from the BICEP 2 experiment shows that they can see this effect, or at least they seem to be able to see these gravitational wave effects, or tensor modes, or B-modes.

This is a bit strange because the Planck Satellite kind of ruled this out last April, so we need to think about this a bit more.  That might be telling us something about which models of inflation are OK and whether inflation itself really is a good match to the data.

Also, it could be inflation, or it could be something else, time will tell… but it’s very very significant and it is the beginning of a whole new story…

Taken at face value it tells us that we are seeing imprints of the very early stage of the Universe on the CMB, and that we have started to see signals from an epoch when the energy density was closer to the Planck scale than many of us, including myself, ever hoped to see.

telescope… but no electricity (v.short update)

So after the initial excitement of the telescope arriving, I’ve just had a hand from Bill Luckhurst, David Parker and Julian Greenberg to remove the old telescope from its mount inside the dome.  Unfortunately no photos because the mains electricity has crashed.  Since the telescope is animated through the medium of electricity, this is a problem…

Julian says he’s going to report it and we’ll see what happens.

We have a telescope!


Here it is! (sunglasses for scale).  It’s called a celestron C14 and it’s about as big as you can buy without having people come round and build it for you, unless you are going to build something which is mounted on the floor called a Dobsonian. We want ours to fly around etc so that’s no good. So it comes with the optical tube


and the complicated motorised mount which is called a German Equatorial Mount

equatorial mount

equatorial mount

I don’t know what’s German about it.  It also comes with a completely useless tripod



which is also quite massive.  However, if you look at the top of the tripod you will see the raised cylindrical ring bit that you need to bolt the rest of the telescope onto.  I need to get my people to fabricate something that looks like that to attach to the top of the existing column.  So not much to report, I haven’t tried to get it going yet, haven’t had time…