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Squeezing down the Theory Space for Cosmic Inflation

An updated search for primordial gravitational waves has not found a signal, which implies that some popular early Universe models are becoming less viable.

Remarkably, the large-scale Universe can be adequately described by a model involving only a handful of parameters. This lambda cold dark matter (LCDM) model postulates that the expansion of the Universe is driven by the presence of two dark components—dark energy and dark matter—and that the galactic structure we observe today was sourced by small density variations in the very early Universe. However, cosmologists expect that these primordial density fluctuations were accompanied by fluctuations in the fabric of spacetime itself. These gravitational waves could be observed through a predicted signal in the cosmic microwave background (CMB). The BICEP/Keck Collaboration, which has been a frontrunner in the search for this illustrious signal, reports on its latest data set, finding no evidence of gravitational waves. The resulting limits further constrain a class of popular model predictions, which suggests we are either closing in on a detection or reaching a crossroads where different inflation models and perhaps alternative scenarios need to be considered. In addition, the analysis shows that researchers properly understand the astrophysical contaminants that obscure the search for this relic signature. By reducing uncertainties about this contamination, we should have greater confidence in any future claims of a detection.

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