When the physicists who run the South Pole-based radio telescope BICEP2 found what seemed to be a signal from the dawn of time, it felt like a slam dunk. They were hunting a pattern in cosmic radio waves that would confirm that the Universe had expanded rapidly in the first fraction of a second of its existence — an extremely faint signal if it exists at all. “We all thought this was the kind of problem that you’d have to struggle with for a long time,” says Colin Bischoff, a cosmologist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and member of the BICEP2 team. For once, it seemed, nature was being kind.
But it was not to be.