The expansion of the universe over most of its history has been relatively gradual. The notion that a rapid period "inflation" preceded the Big Bang expansion was first put forth 25 years ago. The new WMAP observations favor specific inflation scenarios over other long held ideas. .
Physicists are popping the champagne corks after announcing a major discovery that backs up a long suspected theory called cosmic inflation - a twist on the Big Bang theory. Scientists say that a split-second after the Big Bang, the newly formed universe ballooned out at a pace so astonishing that it left behind ripples in the fabric of the cosmos.
Although many scientists already believed that an initial, extremely rapid growth spurt happened, they have long sought the type of evidence cited in the new study. The results reported Monday emerged after researchers peered into the faint light that remains from the Big Bang of nearly 14 billion years ago.
The discovery is being hailed as potentially one of the most important pieces of research in the past two decades and included researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the University of Minnesota, Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory working at the South Pole.
How are scientists able to study something that happened billions of years ago? What does this discovery tell us about the early moments of the universe?
With files from the Associated Press.
Sean Carroll, Senior Research Associate in Physics at California Institute of Technology