Cafe Sci: “The Beginning of the Universe… and Dust in Our Galaxy”

November 12, 2014

Dr. Arthur Kosowsky

Professor of Physics and Astronomy
University of Pittsburgh


"The Beginning of the Universe... and Dust in Our Galaxy"


Arthur Kosowsky, a top expert in cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, will speak about a new discovery made using the BICEP telescope at the South Pole earlier this year. A team of physicists noticed a subtle change in the CMB, which is hypothesized to be the result of gravitational waves by a sudden cosmic expansion during the very earliest moments of the universe. Despite the buzz this discovery has generated, more analysis is needed to determine whether the signal is evidence of the first moments of the universe, or whether it has a much more local source – such as dust grains in our own galaxy, aligned by magnetic fields. More data will be required to determine the cause of the change. If the signal is indeed from the first moments of the universe, it opens a remarkable window into physics at a scale we will never be able to probe with experiments on Earth, and it can tell us what happened when the universe was a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old.

Kosowsky will talk about the science behind these ideas, what kinds of observations need to be done to decide the source of what we are seeing in the microwave sky, what this might tell us about the universe, and what kinds of future physics experiments and theories it might prompt.

Arthur Kosowsky is a professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his PhD in physics from the University of Chicago in 1994 and has been on the faculty of Pitt since 2005. He is the author of many scientific papers about the universe, and particularly how the cosmic microwave background radiation tells us about the properties of the universe and about fundamental physics. He is also a member of the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT) project, which has built a custom-designed 6-meter microwave telescope with superconducting bolometric detectors to observe the microwave sky from the Atacama desert in the Chilean Andes.

Recorded on Monday, November 10th, 2014 at Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA.