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BICEP2 discovery tells the story of our universe: part 1

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A lifespan tells a story. It begins with birth and growth, unfolds through phases of change and transformation, and ultimately ends with death. Ours is so brief, that we hardly notice that the universe is growing, changing and transforming, too. But that doesn't mean the life story of the universe is hidden from us. All we have to do, says Patrick Brady, is look up.

Brady is a professor of Physics and Director of the Leonard E. Parker Center for Gravitation, Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“When we look at the universe that's close to us and at the stage it's in now, we see galaxies. We see stars nearby us inside the Milky Way, we see all these other things – planets and so forth. … And as we look out, because the light is traveling at a finite speed, it's equivalent to looking backwards in time.”

It's similar to lag on a webcam. When our image takes a long time to travel from a camera to a monitor, we see an image from the past. Light takes a very long time to travel across the universe resulting in lag that can show us images billions of years old.

When we look at light from very distant objects, Brady said, we see hints that the universe has gone through a number of phases. “There is a story of how the universe comes from that Big Bang to being where it is today, and it's that story that we're trying to actually understand.”

Many of these phases are theories pieced together from combining indirect evidence from our observations with mathematical models.

But a Harvard-led research team may have recently confirmed many of those theories. On March 17, they announced that new data from gathered by their BICEP2 telescope in Antarctica, observing a form of light believed to have originated very shortly after the Big Bang, aligns astonishingly well with their predictions based on these theories. The New York Times dubbed the findings the "Big Bang's Smoking Gun.”

Part two will tell the story of the universe as many believe it today, and how the new findings may solidify many parts of that story. Click the Subscribe button above if you would like to receive an email when it becomes available.

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