As one physicist puts it "It's amazing. You can see back to the beginning of time."
Lawrence Krauss' comment to the Associated Press was not unusual on a day when the scientific world was bubbling over a research team's report that it has found direct evidence of the expansion of the universe that followed the Big Bang.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota and three other institutions collaborated on the project that used a powerful telescope at the South Pole to capture images of ripples in space and time – gravitational waves – that are thought to be some of the first tremors caused by the birth of the universe.
Scientists have long theorized that when the Big Bang occurred about 14 billion years ago the universe then expanded exponentially in a fraction of a second. The findings released Monday by researchers with the BICEP2 Collaboration are said to be the first direct evidence of this inflation of the cosmos.
Clem Pryke , a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota, was one of the leaders of the team. It also included researchers from Harvard, Stanford, and the California Institute of Technology.
"This discovery gives us direct insight into the birth of the entire Universe in which we find ourselves," Pryke says. "It's a holy grail, and incredibly exciting!"
Scientists who were not involved in the project were just as enthused about the findings. Krauss, who is a cosmologist at Arizona State University, tells Bloomberg Businessweek the experiment is incredibly impressive. “In some sense, it is answering the question of why there is something rather than nothing,” he says.
Businessweek notes it will take time to confirm the results reported by the collaboration. But if and when that confirmation comes, the discovery of the gravitational waves will rank among the most significant findings in the recent study of the cosmos.
An astrophysicist at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee tells USA Today if it's confirmed the scientists who made the discovery will be in line for a Nobel Prize.
USA Today says when Albert Einstein issued his theory of relativity nearly a century ago he predicted the existence of such gravitational waves, but thought they'd be too faint to be detected.
In a statement issued by the BICEP2 team, the U of M's Pryke says "This has been like looking for a needle in a haystack, but instead we found a crowbar."