Hopkins Scientist Says Discovery of Gravitational Waves “Bigger Than the Higgs Boson”

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Marc Kamionkowski, a theoretical physicist at Johns Hopkins University, was not involved in the research that yielded our first observational evidence of gravitational waves, but as a well-known early-universe expert he was the guy just about every news outlet turned to for an understanding of just how monumental these findings are. And for the record they are very, very monumental.

Kamionkowski told Time that the detection of little ripples in space-time immediately following the Big Bang “is bigger than the Higgs boson.” To the New York Times he said, “This is huge, as big as it gets.” An Associated Press article quoted him dubbing the reported discovery “not just a home run” but a “grand slam.”

So what’s the big deal? For reasons that no amount of time spent skimming 2,000-word articles can make me truly understand (but please, be my guest), these purported gravitational waves — observed as a “slight distortion in microwave radiation left over from the Big Bang” — support both Albert Einstein’s theory that gravity is not a force but a “warping of spacetime” and the Inflationary Universe theory, which posits that for a brief period shortly after the Big Bang the universe’s expansion outpaced the speed of light.

The findings have yet to be confirmed by other research groups, but Kamionkowski’s not sweating it. “These are extremely careful and conservative people,” he told Time. “They’ve had this evidence for three years, looked at every alternative explanation for what they were seeing, and systematically ruled them out one by one.”

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