Earlier this month, researchers of the BICEP2 collaboration made a groundbreaking announcement: The team detected B-mode polarizations in the Cosmic Microwave Background, "ancient light" or the leftover glow from the Big Bang. These twisty patterns in the Cosmic Microwave Background give us the first direct evidence for cosmic inflation, the beginning moments when the entire universe violently expanded from a near-zero hot spot into the expansive cosmos we know today.
Okay, wait. What the heck is inflation? Our planet is in a microwave? WHAT? And who cares??
We know. This is A LOT of information to take in, and even after reading the press release over and over again, it's still a mind bender. So, we've dedicated this month's Best for Last series to this momentous event because it is actually a really, really big deal. Below we've compiled five of the best long-form features, blog posts and videos that help explain cosmic inflation, the Cosmic Microwave Background and B-mode polarization in simpler terms.
1. NOVA, a PBS program, aired a four-part series featuring some of today's most pressing topics in cosmology. The fourth hour of this series includes a nice history on how the theory of cosmic inflation came to be, the pioneers behind this theory and the bewildering concepts that have emerged from it (read: multiverse theory).
2. Phil Plait is, hands down, one of our favorite bloggers. On his blog, "Bad Astronomy," Plait breaks down the BICEP2 announcement into digestible and easy-to-understand chunks of information, including short but stellar primers on cosmic inflation and gravitational waves in the Cosmic Microwave Background.
3. If you aren't already following Joe Hanson, PhD, and his blog "It's Okay to be Smart," you need to do that NOW. When the BICEP2 news broke, Hanson gave some awesome brain-tickling perspective:
"This has implications for everything from multiverse theory to the long search for dark energy and dark matter (and its origins) to why our universe is so flat and even at its observable edges to the quantum scale blips and fluctuations that gave rise to everything from stardust to galaxies."
4. And then there's this PhD Comics piece, written and drawn with help from one of the BICEP2 researchers! For those who need a visual aid, like me, this is incredibly helpful.
5. You can always count on MinutePhysics to give brief but helpful explanations to complex scientific questions, like "What is dark matter?" or "Why is the sky blue?" The channel's video on cosmic inflation, which has garnered more than 433,000 views, probably gives the best explanation of why light polarization plays such a crucial role in the BICEP2 discovery.
Are there any other news, long-form features, videos or infographics you've seen that helped you better understand the BICEP2 discovery? Share them in the comments below!
As a bonus feature, we are sharing this little gem. Stanford University Assistant Professor Chao-Lin Kuo, who is part of the BICEP2 team, surprised Professor Andrei Linde, the "founding father of inflation" with news about his team's discovery. This viral video is worth watching again and again.