We all heard the cosmos-stretching news this week. On Monday, a team of researchers working with a special telescope at the South Pole confirmed that they had observed evidence of "inflation," the sudden and rapid expansion of the universe that occurred in an unimaginably small slice of time just after the Big Bang, the beginning of space and time some 13.8 billion years ago. The researchers achieved this feat by examining what is known as the cosmic microwave background or CMB, which has been called the "residual heat of creation." It is a light glow that suffuses the universe and that is nearly as old as the Big Bang itself—its leftover radiation and, you might say, its signature.
For most of us, though, all this talk of "inflation"—which quickly gets even more complicated, with phrases like "gravitational waves" and "polarized light" getting thrown around—can seem pretty intimidating.
But that’s the wrong way to look at it. If we don’t understand the stunning insights of modern astrophysics and cosmology, it’s just because nobody has explained them to us well enough—yet. There are science communicators out there who are more than up to the task, though, and one of them is Slate blogger and self-described "bad astronomer" Phil Plait.
On the show this week, we talk to Plait about this recent discovery—he explains what is actually going on, and what we can take away from it.
This episode of Inquiring Minds also features a discussion of troubling new research on the melting of Greenland, and on whether or not basketball players actually get "hot," statistically speaking, becoming more likely to make future shots if they have already made several shots in a row.