The 13.8 billion-year history of the universe condensed into a graphic, with the Big Bang followed by an inflationary epoch, to the left, and our current, developed cosmos on the right. (Image Credit: NASA via Flickr)
Inflation theory, first formulated in 1980, proposes that the universe underwent an exponential expansion a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, increasing in size by a factor of about 1030. Inflation helps resolve several key issues with the Big Bang theory, the most successful cosmology model to date. One issue is the apparent "smoothness," or uniformity of temperature, of the universe's earliest observable light, the cosmic microwave background (CMB). A universe with all its regions connected in time and space prior to an inflationary period could reach such a temperature equilibrium. Inflation can also explain the startlingly precise density that our universe possesses in order to have neither collapsed upon itself, nor ballooned in size so rapidly as to have become virtually empty. Geometrically speaking, space appears "flat," rather than curved close or open. Inflation would have stretched out any local curvature of space making this curvature indiscernible, rather like how the planet Earth appears flat to those standing on its surface. In addition, irregularities in inflation caused by fluctuations predicted by quantum mechanics in the fabric of space-time can explain the clumping of mass into the observable clusters of galaxies in the universe. Researchers continue to study the CMB and cosmic structure for clues about inflation.
The most accepted idea for how the early universe behaved, cosmic inflation, remains more an abstraction than full-fledged theory. During a live Google Hangout, three preeminent scientists considered the evidence for and against this contentious concept.
The latest data release from the Planck space telescope offers insight into everything from the fabric of space to dark matter – and may even have a shot at detecting gravitational waves, says Kavli Institute for Cosmology Director George Efstathiou.
ON FEBRUARY 18, 2015 three preeminent scientists came together to discuss the latest results, what they mean for the theory of inflation, and what we can expect to learn about the very early universe in the coming decade.
The winners of the 2014 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics – Alan Guth, Andrei Linde and Alexei Starobinsky – discuss their development of the theory of inflation and reflect on how it has changed our view of the universe.
Scientists have announced we may now have the first “smoking gun” evidence that the universe expanded with unmatchable speed in its earliest moments. Three theoretical physics consider the implications of this stunning development.
SLAC and Stanford scientists, many from the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), are at the center of the exciting new results of cosmic inflation and will be holding a special colloquium to celebrate on Wednesday, March 19 from 3:00-5:30pm PDT on the SLAC campus.