Special |

Waves from the Big Bang

The detection of gravitational waves in the afterglow of the Big Bang — if confirmed — opens a new chapter in astronomy, cosmology and physics. The signature, seen by the BICEP2 radio telescope at the South Pole, packs at least three discoveries into one: It provides the most direct evidence for the existence of the waves predicted by Einstein; it is the proof of ‘cosmic inflation’ that physicists had been eagerly awaiting; and it opens a window into the unification of the fundamental forces of nature and into quantum gravity. In this special collection, Nature News has the most comprehensive and up-to-date coverage of the breakthrough and its aftermath.

News & Comment

As the launch of the Planck spacecraft approaches, Eric Hand investigates what the mission could mean for the predominant theory of the moments after the Big Bang.

News Feature | | Nature

The cosmos is thought to be awash with gravitational waves to which humanity is, as yet, deaf. Trudy E. Bell reports on LISA, an experiment on an unprecedented scale designed to put that right.

News Feature | | Nature

After years of work in the Antarctic, John Kovac and his team have captured strong evidence for a long-held theory about the Universe’s birth.

News Feature | | Nature

The left-over radiation from the Big Bang has given up what may be its last great secret about the early Universe, but astronomers are determined to mine more from this primordial prize.

News Feature | | Nature

News from the archive

News & Views

Experiments aimed at finding Einstein's elusive gravitational waves have reached their designed sensitivity. Yet we are still waiting for the first detection. What can we learn from this?

News & Views | | Nature Physics

The general theory of relativity predicts that all accelerating objects produce gravitational waves — analogous to electromagnetic waves — that should be detectable for instance in the case of extremely massive objects such as black holes undergoing acceleration. The existence of such waves has been inferred indirectly, but an important goal in physics is their direct observation, a feat that would both validate Einstein's theory and lead to new areas of cosmology. Now early results from LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), one of the handful of detectors searching for gravity waves, have provided a starting point for further gravity hunts by deriving an upper limit for the stochastic background of gravitational waves of cosmological origin. The data rule out models of early Universe evolution with a relatively large equation-of-state parameter, as well as cosmic (super)string models with relatively small string tension that are favoured in some string theory models.

News & Views | | Nature

Cosmic gravitational waves could provide unprecedented information on the early Universe. The effects that are of interest are small, but experiments are gradually achieving a sensitivity that will test cosmological models.

News & Views | | Nature

Fiction

Marking the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), Jeff Kanipe takes a look at the prospects of the 'big four' major new telescopes. They have a tough act to follow, as a trawl through 'Hubble's greatest hits' reveals. The 'Dark Skies Awareness' campaign is part of IYA 2009; Malcolm Smith argues the case for a transformation that would not only help astronomers but would also benefit human health and energy conservation. Also part of IYA 2009 is the celebration of 400 years of the telescope; Owen Gingerich tracks the link between technology and our changing world-view. Robert Poole's book Earthrise focuses on the psychological impact of the Apollo 8 image of Earth over the lunar horizon, though our reviewer feels that our attitudes towards our planet have not changed enough. 'Hidden treasures' visits the Paris Observatory and astronaut Alan Bean talks about his moonscape paintings. In Futures, David Blair looks back on 2009 and in a Letter, Alyssa Goodman et al. reveal the importance of self-gravity in star formation. See the Editorial and visit http://www.nature.com/astro09 for more. COVER PICTURE: Hubble Space Telescope/Christian Darkin

Futures | | Nature