A major discovery touted as proof of the explosive origins of our universe may simply be interference from space dust, new research suggests.
This past Spring, a research team called Bicep reported that by using a powerful telescope, the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2), they could observe ripples in the sky that they believed to be gravitational waves from the cosmic event that we have come to know as the Big Bang.
If true, the findings would be monumental, since it would be close to absolute evidence of the Big Bang and a theory called cosmic inflation, which suggests that the world underwent a rapid expansion, bursting into existence in less than a second.
But a new paper published Monday in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics suggests that there was probably a lot of space dust interference in the original findings, and it's unlikely that the Bicep researchers had a clear enough picture to confirm they indeed saw waves from the origins of the universe.
"We show that even in the faintest dust-emitting regions there are no “clean” windows in the sky," reads the study. The researchers, who used data from the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite, determined that the dust could have produced the ripples the scientists saw, but added they could not be certain how much the dust did interfere.
The critique was not unexpected. As TIME reported in May, the research group which is led by John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, had already received feedback from other scientists who speculated the signals were just dust.
The Bicep and the Planck satellite teams will collaborate on both of their findings to come to a more detailed conclusion of what the Bicep team saw. For now, the scientific community will have to wait. The New York Times reports that the joint findings of the two groups are due at the end of the year.
(Casual readers may be more familiar with this specific finding than they realize. In March, a YouTube video went viral showing a member of Bicep knocking on the door of retired researcher Andrei Linde to tell him they discovered the ripples--implying his own theories about the start of the universe were correct.)