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The BICEP2 Dust-Up Continues

30 May 2014, 12:35 UTC
The BICEP2 Dust-Up Continues
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The controversy continues to develop over the interpretation of the results from BICEP2, the experiment that detected “B-mode” polarization in the sky, and was hailed as potential evidence of gravitational waves from the early universe, presumably generated during cosmic inflation. [Here's some background info about the measurement].
Two papers this week (here and here) gave more detailed voice to the opinion that the BICEP2 team may have systematically underestimated the possible impact of polarized dust on their measurement. These papers raise (but cannot settle) the question as to whether the B-mode polarization seen by BICEP2 might be entirely due to this dust — dust which is found throughout our galaxy, but is rather tenuous in the direction of the sky in which BICEP2 was looking.
I’m not going to drag my readers into the mud of the current discussion, both because it’s very technical and because it’s rather vague and highly speculative. Even the authors of the two papers admit they leave the situation completely unsettled. But to summarize, the main purpose and effect of these papers seems to be this:

to point out that the level to which dust tends to be polarized, as measured by the Planck satellite ...

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