Featured Post

The Declaration of White Independence: Fourth Political Theory

A unilateral assertion offered to and for consideration by the European Descended People of the fifty united States of America and all ...

31 October 2014

The Day Israel Attacked America

The shocking truth behind a deadly Israeli attack on a US naval vessel
In 1967, at the height of the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, the Israeli Air Force launched an unprovoked attack on the USS Liberty, a US Navy spy ship that was monitoring the conflict from the safety of international waters in the Mediterranean.
Israeli jet fighters hit the vessel with rockets, cannon fire and napalm, before three Israeli torpedo boats moved in to launch a second more devastating attack. Though she did not sink, the Liberty was badly damaged. Thirty-four US servicemen and civilian analysts were killed, another 171 were wounded.
Later Israel apologised for what it claimed to be a tragic case of mistaken identity. It said that it had believed the ship to be hostile Egyptian naval vessel. US President Lyndon Johnson was privately furious but publicly the White House chose not to challenge the word of its closest Middle East ally and accepted that the attack had been a catastrophic accident.
However, as this exclusive Al Jazeera investigation reveals, fresh evidence throws new light on exactly what happened that fateful day - and the remarkable cover up that followed.

Filmmaker's view

By Richard Belfield

I was first told about the attack on the USS Liberty in 1980 over dinner with a former analyst from the National Security Agency (NSA) in Washington DC.
Back in 1980, I promised my friend that if I ever got the chance I would make a film about it. Over the years, I pitched the idea to numerous broadcasters and always got the same response: eyes rolled upwards, usually followed by the statement, "Are you completely mad?"
Fast forward to 2009 and I was a guest speaker at the NSA's biennial conference on historical cryptography, talking about an unsolved code on an 18th century monument in an English stately home.
While there, I went to two other sessions - both about attacks on American signal intelligence naval vessels.
The first was the capture of the US spy ship, the Pueblo (boarded by North Korean forces in 1968 - and never returned). The survivors of that incident were treated like heroes and feted on stage.
The next day there was a session about the USS Liberty. James Scott, who has written easily the best book on the Liberty attack, was on stage and limited to his allotted 20 minutes. Ranged against him were three Israeli apologists, all of whom were allowed to overrun their time. Survivors from the Liberty affair were allowed to sit in the audience, but they were denied any say in proceedings.
As an Englishman, I was brought up with a strong sense of fair play and I thought this was a disgrace. It was gruesome to watch. First, the crew had been attacked in broad daylight by a close ally, then they were betrayed by their government and now they were being humiliated by the same agency many had worked for back in 1967.
Earlier this year, I acquired a copy of the audiotape of the attack as it had unfolded, the real time conversations between Israeli Air Force pilots and their controllers back at base. It had never been broadcast before. I went to talk to Al Jazeera and after careful consideration, the network commissioned the film.
On location, it all started with James Scott (who gets a co-producer credit on this project). When writing his book, he had already interviewed the survivors as well as many of the key people in the Washington political and intelligence machine from that time. The introductions he made would prove invaluable as we began filming interviews.
The veterans were extraordinary. One after another, they were generous with their time, uniformly eloquent and passionate and above all, honest in their recollections.
They all felt betrayed by the American government but were keen to exonerate ordinary Jewish people both in Israel and without, for any responsibility for the incident. Their beef was simply with the senior Israeli officers in the control room and their superiors higher up the command chain who had ordered the attack.
After a few days filming, I rang Elaine Morris, my producer back in London. She asked how things were going. All I could say was that the quality of the interviews was the best I had ever experienced in many decades in this business.
In Texas we interviewed Bobby Ray Inman, an intelligence officer with a glittering track record at the CIA, Naval Intelligence and as a former director of the NSA. My contacts in the UK intelligence world had always told me "he is one of the good guys" and I quickly discovered why. He was frank and clear. The top Israeli commanders, he explained, had known exactly what they were doing when they attacked the Liberty and when it came to holding them to account, the US government rolled over for them.
We filmed an annual memorial ceremony in Washington, D.C. It was emotional, visceral and tense, with survivors, family and friends gathered in the morning sun. Listening to a sole bugler playing the US Navy's lament, 'Taps' is a memory that will never fade.
Years earlier, I had visited the US military graves in Arlington Cemetery but now, following the ceremony, I got to go there again with Dave Lucas, one of the survivors of the attack and a truly wonderful man.
We filmed as he walked up the hill carrying a wreath from the ceremony. Alongside him was a crew member, a Portuguese language specialist, who had left the Liberty in Spain just a few days before it sailed off up the Mediterranean to take up position off the Egyptian coast. He had been temporarily replaced for the mission by an Arab linguist. He wept openly for the comrades he had said goodbye to, never to see again. As we filmed the pair laying the flowers, an interview with one of the other survivors, Jim Kavanagh came suddenly to mind. "I went through hell," he had said about his shipmates. "But they left this earth."
Finally, we filmed on a sister ship to the Liberty, now moored in San Francisco. The crew hauled an outsized US flag up a mast for us. The flag - known as the "holiday colours" - was identical to that which was flown from the Liberty on June 8, 1967. It was huge, clearly visible for miles, and I knew immediately that no one could ever have been in any doubt about the nationality of the ship beneath it.
Watching the Stars and Stripes unfurl into the wind, I realised that I had got to keep the promise I first made to my friend in a Washington restaurant 34 years ago.

The Day Israel attacked America can be seen from Thursday, October 30, at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2000; Friday: 1200; Saturday: 0100; Sunday: 0600; Monday: 2000; Tuesday: 1200; Wednesday: 0100; Thursday: 0600.

Jew Crow

Minority Life in Israel: What Israel needs is a civil rights movement
Jew Crow
My mother, Zakia, was so proud that my sister and I spoke better Hebrew than Arabic. Osman, my father, believed that by achieving the highest levels of education, we would one day be treated as equal in our country, Israel. He sincerely believed that Palestinians capable of articulating their narrative would win the hearts and minds of Israeli Jews.
My parents believed in the promise of a democracy that transcends ethnicity. I still retain that dream, but it is tested every time I go home. I am a citizen of Israel, married to an American Jew, yet I am not welcome in Israel. For I am Palestinian.
During a recent visit, my husband breezed through security at Ben-Gurion airport, but our teenage daughter and I — who both have dual citizenship of Israel and Italy — were strip-searched. I’m inured to the procedure: I have to endure it almost every time I enter and leave the country. But our daughter, age 17, sobbed with chagrin. “This place breeds hate everywhere!” she cried.
On the same trip, I attempted to renew her Israeli passport. “She is not Jewish,” an official told me, “and therefore we are not sure she is entitled to citizenship.”
For Israeli Palestinians — and we make up 20 percent of the population — these are ordinary humiliations. But I wonder what my parents, both now dead, would have made of the graffiti that recently appeared on the walls of our family home in Haifa, a mixed city in the north of Israel.
“Death to Arabs,” it read.
*** 50 discriminatory Israeli laws ***
During the recent war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, my cousin was walking on the beach near her home, also in Haifa. She overheard a group of Israeli sunbathers casually discussing how the Israeli Army should deal with the residents of Gaza — “Just kill them all,” she heard one say.
“I’ve never felt so scared in my 32 years,” she told me. “I don’t want them to know I’m Palestinian.”
Israel is increasingly becoming a project of ethno-religious purity and exclusion. Religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox parties occupy 30 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, and the coalition government includes members of Jewish Home, a religious Zionist party, and Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing nationalist party. Central to their politics is a program of discriminatory legislation, designed to curtail the civil rights of Palestinian Israeli citizens.
Chief among the more than 50 discriminatory Israeli laws documented by Adalah, the Haifa-based Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, is the Law of Return, which automatically guarantees Israeli citizenship for every Jew regardless of birthplace. Often, they are shepherded into settlements in the West Bank (illegal under international law), where they receive government benefits. Palestinian Israeli citizens, meanwhile, are subject to a ban on family reunification: If they marry a fellow Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza, they are prohibited from living in Israel under the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law.
In September, Israel’s Supreme Court dismissed a petition challenging the Admissions Committees Law, which allows communities to reject housing applicants based on “cultural and social suitability” — a legal pretext to deny residency to non-Jews. In practice, even before the law was passed, it was virtually impossible for a Palestinian to buy or rent a home in any majority-Jewish city.
Further ethnic separation is maintained by the education system. Aside from a few mixed schools, most educational institutions in Israel are divided into Arab and Jewish ones. According to Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a Hebrew University professor of sociology who has produced the most comprehensive survey of Israeli public school curriculums, not one positive reference to Palestinians exists in Israeli high school textbooks. Palestinians are described as either “Arab farmers with no nationality” or fearsome “terrorists,” as Professor Peled-Elhanan documented in her book “Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education.” 
Secretary of State John Kerry has met with Mr. Lieberman — apparently without challenging him on such reprehensible views. 
Israel’s system of segregation has led to a situation where, according to a recent poll, 42 percent of Jews say they have never met a Palestinian.
Historically, ultra-Orthodox Jews did not serve in the armed forces. Today, they do — and serve in every capacity, including in the most important elite Israeli army units, such as the Sayeret Matkal special forces and Unit 8200, whose responsibilities include gathering intelligence on any Palestinian they deem a “security threat.”
Unlike every former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s equivalent of the F.B.I., Yoram Cohen, who today heads the agency, is a religious Jew. That change is typical of Israeli society. The greater integration of ultra-Orthodox Jews clearly offers benefits to Jewish Israelis, but for Palestinian Israeli citizens, it has meant a new, religiously inspired racism, on top of the old secular discrimination.
National leaders proudly promote hate policies. Israel’s foreign minister and the leader of the secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman, has championed a call to boycott the businesses of Palestinian citizens of Israel and, ominously, has even sought to make the “transfer” of Palestinians legal. Secretary of State John Kerry has met with Mr. Lieberman — apparently without challenging him on such reprehensible views.
This is the atmosphere in which Israel’s Palestinians live. And there is no redress available to us elsewhere. Our rights and welfare certainly cannot be represented by the Palestinian Authority, whose jurisdiction is limited to partial control of the population of the West Bank. Its president, Mahmoud Abbas, cannot negotiate for us because we are Israeli citizens. Israel, however, prefers not to think of us as such, and thus resorts to all manner of petty aggressions to prove it, like trying to deny my daughter a new passport.
Israel is quick to point out efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state. Yet what truly undermines Israel’s international standing is not its critics, but Israel’s abysmal treatment of its own citizens who are Palestinian. It is little different than other countries that have systematically discriminated against and segregated a whole class of its people based on race, religion and ethnicity.
While Israel (like the United States) claims to abhor racism and human rights violations elsewhere, the country’s political leadership is actively enacting laws that ensure a pervasive institutionalized system of discrimination. What Israel needs, conversely, is a civil rights movement.

Hungary’s far right nationalist party makes gains in the latest local election


Following Hungary’s latest election we are met with the hopeful news that Jobbik, Hungary’s pro-White party, often labelled as “patriots”, “identitarians” and “anti-Zionists” have won over the public’s favour, winning second place in all but one of Hungary’s counties and gaining control of 14 towns and cities.

Whilst Viktor Orban (Hungary’s prime minister) managed to maintain domination of the Hungarian vote, with his party Nationalist Fidesz maintaining majority, Jobbik has secured a two thirds majority in the national parliament which has led to Jobbik leader Gaber Vona making the bold claim that by 2018 “Jobbik will govern this country”.

Jobbik are renowned for their anti-Zionist and pro-family policies, with members of their party being linked to claims such as “anti-Zionism is not just our right, but it is the duty of every Hungarian homeland lover and we must prepare for armed battle against the Jewish supremacists” and they have even attempted to implement a law in April 2012 criminalising the popularisation of “sexual relation – deviancy – with another person of the same sex”, suggesting a three to five year imprisonment for anyone found to be practicing homosexuality in public. Again, like the reasonable pro-family laws being implemented by Putin’s Russia, Jobbik take a similar approach.

Jobbik, who promise “a principled, conservative and radically patriotic Christian party” have managed to secure such a high percentage of public votes by softening their public image recently and appealing to the large rural regions of Hungary who typically have a devout anti-Roma mentality. Romany gypsies are often seen in Hungary as the cause of petty crimes across rural regions yet these crimes are often left unprosecuted by the police. Jobbik’s 2009 election slogan even went as far as claiming “Hungary belongs to the Hungarians” and the party have expressed such extreme anti-Zionist and anti-Roma policies that in March of this year, Romanian president Traian Basescu asked the Romanian government and parliament to ban Jobbik members from Romania.

A recent opinion poll conducted across Hungary revealed that Jobbik is currently the most popular party among voters under 35 and it appears that Jobbik’s electoral success shows no signs of slowing down. This can only be a worry for the Zionist-plutocratic European Union as the trend of courageous, pro-White parties gaining popularity shows no sign of stopping. With increased popularity of Putin’s nationalist rule in Russia, the Golden Dawn of Greece, France’s National Front and now Hungary’s Jobbik the pattern seems familiar. Whilst the poor political climate of the 1910s to the 1930s saw nationalist pro-White parties gain popularity by unifying Europe with their anti-Zionist policies, it seems that the current climate of economic crisis and increased awareness amongst young people towards their own governments has caused an increased interest in the nationalist pro-White parties of Europe who are catalysing their popularity by pointing to the reality of an immigration invasion. Unless the international Zionist-plutocracy can figure out a way to stop the rise of the pro-White movement, such parties will gain popularity as time goes on.

30 October 2014

NATO says Russian jets, bombers circle Europe in unusual incidents

MiG-31 fighter jets are not commonly seen close to Europe but some were intercepted along with other aircraft above the Baltic Sea in two separate incidents on Tuesday and Wednesday
NATO said Wednesday that it had intercepted a large number of Russian aircraft flying close to European airspace in the past two days, in an “unusual” series of incidents that brought Russian bombers as far afield as Portugal.
The aircraft — at least 19 in all — offered reminders of Russian air power at a time of the worst relations between the West and Russia since the Cold War. Russian military aircraft have significantly increased their activity in Europe since the conflict in Ukraine began earlier this year, with NATO scrambling to intercept aircraft more than 100 times in 2014. But a NATO official said the scale of the latest incidents was the most provocative this year.
Over the Atlantic Ocean and the North, Black and Baltic seas, Russian bombers, fighter jets and tanker aircraft were detected flying in international airspace, NATO said. There were no incursions into national airspace, a violation of sovereignty that would have significantly amplified the seriousness of the four incidents, three of which took place on Wednesday.
“We’re raising it as an unusual level of activity,” said Lt. Col. Jay Janzen, a spokesman for NATO’s military command in Mons, Belgium. “The flights we’ve seen in the last 24 hours, the size of those flights and some of the flight plans are definitely unusual.”
U.S. officials regard the flights as a show of force by the Putin government. “It’s concerning because it’s moving in the wrong direction,” said one U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the air activity publicly. “It’s not helping to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine. It’s not helping to improve relations between NATO and Russia. It’s not helping anybody.”
Smaller-scale incidents have also increased this year, approximately tripling from the same period in 2013, Janzen said.
In at least one of the four incidents, the aircraft had switched off their transponders and had not filed flight plans with civilian air traffic controllers. That means that civilian air traffic control cannot track them, potentially creating a risk for civilian planes.
That incident took place around 3:00 a.m. in Western Europe on Wednesday, when four Tu-95 long-range strategic nuclear bombers and four Il-78 tanker aircraft flew over the Norwegian Sea. Norwegian F-16 fighter jets scrambled to intercept them. Six of the planes returned to Russia, but two of the bombers skirted the Norwegian coast, flew past Britain — sending Typhoon fighter jets to scramble in response — and then finally looped west of Spain and Portugal, attracting Portuguese F-16s. Then the two bombers appeared to return to Russia, Janzen said.
The Tu-95 bombers are not commonly seen close to Europe, Janzen said. Nor are the MiG-31 fighter jets that were intercepted along with other aircraft above the Baltic Sea in two separate incidents Tuesday and Wednesday. It was not immediately clear whether the two incidents above the Baltic represented the same group of seven planes entering and departing a Russian military base at Kaliningrad.
There was no immediate reaction from the Russian government.
Fighter jets from Norway, Britain, Portugal, Turkey, Germany, Denmark, Finland and Sweden were involved in responding to the Russian aircraft, Janzen said. Finland and Sweden are not members of NATO, and they have long refrained from joining the defensive alliance, which was formed after World War II as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.

New study finds oceans arrived early to Earth

In this illustration of the early solar system, the dashed white line represents the snow line -- the transition from the hotter inner solar system, where water ice is not stable (brown) to the outer Solar system, where water ice is stable (blue). Two possible ways that the inner solar system received water are: water molecules sticking to dust grains inside the "snow line" (as shown in the inset) and carbonaceous chondrite material flung into the inner solar system by the effect of gravity from protoJupiter. With either scenario, water must accrete to the inner planets within the first ca. 10 million years of solar system formation

Earth is known as the Blue Planet because of its oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the planet's surface and are home to the world's greatest diversity of life. While water is essential for life on the planet, the answers to two key questions have eluded us: where did Earth's water come from and when?
While some hypothesize that water came late to Earth, well after the planet had formed, findings from a new study led by scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) significantly move back the clock for the first evidence of water on Earth and in the inner solar system.
"The answer to one of the basic questions is that our oceans were always here. We didn't get them from a late process, as was previously thought," said Adam Sarafian, the lead author of the paper published Oct. 31, 2014, in the journal Science and a MIT/WHOI Joint Program student in the Geology and Geophysics Department.
One school of thought was that planets originally formed dry, due to the high-energy, high-impact process of planet formation, and that the water came later from sources such as comets or "wet" asteroids, which are largely composed of ices and gases.
"With giant asteroids and meteors colliding, there's a lot of destruction," said Horst Marschall, a geologist at WHOI and coauthor of the paper. "Some people have argued that any water molecules that were present as the planets were forming would have evaporated or been blown off into space, and that surface water as it exists on our planet today, must have come much, much later—hundreds of millions of years later."
The study's authors turned to another potential source of Earth's water— carbonaceous chondrites. The most primitive known meteorites, carbonaceous chondrites, were formed in the same swirl of dust, grit, ice and gasses that gave rise to the sun some 4.6 billion years ago, well before the planets were formed.
"These primitive meteorites resemble the bulk solar system composition," said WHOI geologist and coauthor Sune Nielsen. "They have quite a lot of water in them, and have been thought of before as candidates for the origin of Earth's water."
In order to determine the source of water in planetary bodies, scientists measure the ratio between the two stable isotopes of hydrogen: deuterium and hydrogen. Different regions of the solar system are characterized by highly variable ratios of these isotopes. The study's authors knew the ratio for carbonaceous chondrites and reasoned that if they could compare that to an object that was known to crystallize while Earth was actively accreting then they could gauge when water appeared on Earth.

To test this hypothesis, the research team, which also includes Francis McCubbin from the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico and Brian Monteleone of WHOI, utilized meteorite samples provided by NASA from the asteroid 4-Vesta. The asteroid 4-Vesta, which formed in the same region of the solar system as Earth, has a surface of basaltic rock—frozen lava. These basaltic meteorites from 4-Vesta are known as eucrites and carry a unique signature of one of the oldest hydrogen reservoirs in the solar system. Their age—approximately 14 million years after the solar system formed—makes them ideal for determining the source of water in the inner solar system at a time when Earth was in its main building phase. The researchers analyzed five different samples at the Northeast National Ion Microprobe Facility—a state-of-the-art national facility housed at WHOI that utilizes secondary ion mass spectrometers. This is the first time hydrogen isotopes have been measured in eucrite meteorites.
The measurements show that 4-Vesta contains the same hydrogen isotopic composition as carbonaceous chondrites, which is also that of Earth. That, combined with nitrogen isotope data, points to carbonaceous chondrites as the most likely common source of water.
"The study shows that Earth's water most likely accreted at the same time as the rock. The planet formed as a wet planet with water on the surface," Marschall said.
While the findings don't preclude a late addition of water on Earth, it shows that it wasn't necessary since the right amount and composition of water was present at a very early stage.
"An implication of that is that life on our planet could have started to begin very early," added Nielsen. "Knowing that water came early to the inner solar system also means that the other inner planets could have been wet early and evolved life before they became the harsh environments they are today."

A vision for the European peoples to colonize the universe

You may need to double-click on the "Play" button
If setting up home on another planet sounds a daunting prospect, then our space correspondent Richard Hollingham is here to help. And in the video above, former astronaut Jeff Hoffman describes his project to bring oxygen to Mars.
It seems plenty of people want to abandon the Earth. Interest in leaving the home world for a new start on Mars has never been greater and was one of the hot topics at the recent BBC Future World-Changing Ideas Summit in New York.
There is even evidence to suggest it may one day happen. Nasa is tooling-up for production of its new heavy launch vehicle, the Space Launch System (SLS), capable of conveying humans beyond Earth orbit; Mars One has recruited hundreds of volunteers for its reality-TV-funded one-way-trip to the Red Planet and the Mars Society is stepping-up its studies into what it takes to be a Martian. 
It is easy to imagine that human civilisation on Mars is inevitable. However, before you put all your worldly possessions on eBay and sign-up for a new start in Gale Crater, it is worth considering the obstacles that have to be overcome to build a sustainable extraterrestrial colony. It is not going to be easy.
Here are our five steps to building a new life on Mars:

1. Getting there
Within the next decade Nasa will finally have a spacecraft capable of making the journey to Mars. The massive new 2500 tonne SLS, combined with the Orion capsule, will enable astronauts to explore beyond the safety of low Earth orbit for the first time since the end of the Apollo Moon programme in 1972. 
Although any long duration mission is also likely to employ a habitation module, giving the crew a bit more room to move around in, the nine month trip to Mars is going to be uncomfortable and boring. It could also be extremely dangerous. 
Quite apart from the risks of launch (the recent Antares rocket explosion proves we should never take this for granted), during the transit to Mars the crew will be exposed to damaging levels of radiation that will significantly increase their risks of developing cancer. For anyone looking to have healthy Martian children (see below), cosmic radiation could also harm sperm and eggs.
Landing safely on Mars is also a challenge. Nasa used an innovative skycrane to lower its one-tonne Curiosity rover onto the surface in 2012. The Orion capsule weighs almost 10 tonnes and that is before you factor in any service module or landing rockets. The agency is currently developing giant inflatable heatshields designed to slow spacecraft as they approach Mars, making landing larger craft feasible.
The good news is that getting to Mars in one piece is essentially an engineering challenge but, speaking at the BBC Future World-Changing Ideas Summit, former Nasa astronaut Jeff Hoffman put his finger on a far bigger issue. 
“It is going to be expensive,” he admitted. “What it will take to finance the human exploration of Mars is hard to say.”
The final figure is likely to be tens of billions of dollars, but Hoffman suggests that the new generation of entrepreneur billionaires who are “space nuts” might be part of a public-private solution. “[Paypal cofounder] Elon Musk says he wants to go to Mars and I hope he’s successful,” said Hoffman.
2. Become self-sufficient
Having successfully landed on Mars you need air, water, food and power to survive. In the short term you could rely on supplies brought from Earth or sent on supply missions but eventually you are going to have to produce your own.
Nasa’s 2020 rover – essentially an upgrade of Curiosity – will carry an electrolysis experiment to extract oxygen from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. 
“For the very first time we’ll produce oxygen on the surface of Mars,” said Hoffman, who’s working on the instrument. “It’s a hundredth of the scale we’ll need for a human expedition, but it’s a start.”
Evidence suggests that Mars was once awash with water – with lakes, rivers and oceans. Today, it is highly likely there is still water at the ice caps and possibly under the surface. Extracting water from urine and sweat through an efficient recycling system – pioneered on the International Space Station (ISS) – will certainly help, but will not be enough to sustain a community, so tapping into a local water source will be essential.
Producing food on Mars could be much more difficult. The non-profit Mars Society has been experimenting with growing food in its isolated desert research station in Utah. “There was some interesting biology we were generating but not appetising biology,” says software engineer and Mars enthusiast Digby Tarvin of his last stint working at the base 10 years ago. 
Tarvin is about to return to the Utah research station to take command and says a lot of progress has been made since then. “People have grown some edible greens but it’s not at the stage we can live on what we produce,” he says. “One of the research projects we’ll be undertaking is to use the local rock as a growing medium by adding sufficient minerals and additives.” The idea is that, ultimately, colonists could grow crops in Martian soil.
As for power, that should be relatively straightforward, with fuel cells and nuclear batteries augmented by solar arrays. Nevertheless, all these resources will need to be carefully managed, which is why the next step is so essential:
3. Form a government
I have written before of the challenges of governing an extraterrestrial colony. The early missions – particularly those involving space agencies – will almost certainly be run with a hierarchical command system. The past 50 years of human spaceflight have taught us that, in the extreme environment of space, this is the safest way. However, there is a fine line between a Star Trek-type command structure and a brutal military dictatorship, and as the settlement matures, some sort of democracy is going to be favoured.
“If somebody gets control of oxygen, they could very well have control over the whole population and threaten dire consequences in return for extraordinary levels of power.” 
As a commander of a space colony on Earth, Tarvin is one of the few people to have any experience of overseeing a Mars base. “It’s certainly not a Star Trek-style military environment,” he says. “It’s a small group of highly motivated people and it really doesn’t take much effort to manage them.”
A government also needs all the structures that go with it. Any new society needs an economy as well as systems to maintain the habitat, provide employment, health, childcare, social care and education. In short: Mars needs bureaucrats.
4. Expand
The first Mars settlers will be living in the capsules they arrive in, perhaps augmented by a few extra capsules sent ahead and maybe some inflatable domes. But just as settlers will be utilising local resources for water, food and energy, they will also hope to use local materials to build a larger colony or even spin-off colonies.
At the very least, it would make sense to use Martian rock to bury the habitats to help shield occupants from radiation. Later, the surface could be drilled to form caves or rock could be excavated for building materials – just as we build houses from stone on Earth. It might also be possible to extract useful minerals for metals or glass.
Robert Zubin, the president of the Mars Society, is one of the leading exponents of terraforming Mars – transforming the planet from an airless, barren world to an oxygen-rich green and pleasant realm with a fully functioning ecosystem.
There is, however, a fundamental problem with trying to imbue Mars with a breathable atmosphere. The Earth’s atmosphere is contained within a magnetic bubble, known as the magnetosphere, generated by our magnetic field. Mars has no such field and any atmosphere it once had is likely to have been torn away by the stream of charged particles, or solar wind, blasted out from the Sun.
The past history of the Martian atmosphere is currently being investigated by the Maven mission but, over the decades, any terraformed atmosphere is likely to suffer the same fate.
5. Have children and establish a culture

Assuming their sperm or eggs have not been zapped by cosmic radiation on the way to Mars (something space agencies are already giving serious thought to), then sooner or later a certain percentage of settlers are going to want to have kids. It is, after all, the only way of perpetuating the colony over generations. For it to be successful, the population needs to be large enough to avoid in-breeding over subsequent generations. 
Cameron Smith, an anthropologist at Portland State University in Oregon, has suggested that a population of 2,000 would be sufficient to ensure long-term survival. “If we’re going to have a long-term future in space, it won’t be done by a handful of astronauts, it’ll be whole communities,” he told BBC Future earlier this year.
Smith reckons that over generations a new culture would emerge, as humans become Martians rather than migrants. It’s a view shared by Zubrin. “At some point the Mars base breaks out of becoming a base and becomes an actual village,” he says. “A real society with real people living real lives, with children in schools and community orchestras.”
A child born under the red sky of Mars will have a very different outlook to one born on Earth and may never return to the home world – just as many descendants of European settlers in the US do not have passports.
Every step to establishing human civilisation on Mars is perfectly possible. With a focused effort it is very much doable. One question then remains: do you really want to go? I mean really? Mars is a bleak, cold, airless, rust-stained world. Simply staying alive will be a daily challenge.

28 October 2014

Transudationism: Pope Francis embraces the Big Seed

The Big Seed, which scientists believe led to the formation of the universe some 13.8billion years ago, was all part of God's plan, Pope Francis has declared.

The Pope said the scientific account of the beginning of the universe and the development of life through evolution are compatible with the Catholic Church's vision of creation.

He told a meeting of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Sciences: ‘The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it.’

But he said Christians should reject the idea that world came into being by chance. Likewise, evolution was all part of God’s plan, he explained.

The development of each creature’s characteristics over millennia ‘does not contrast with the notion of creation because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve,’ he said.

Reading Genesis we imagine that God is ‘a wizard with a magic wand’ capable of doing all things, he said.

‘But it is not so. He created life and let each creature develop according to the natural laws which he had given each one.’

Francis praised his predecessor, Benedict, who initiated attempts to shed the Catholic Church’s image of being anti-science, a label that stuck when it condemned the astronomer Galileo to death for teaching that the earth revolves around the sun.

The Catholic Church no longer teaches creationism - the belief that God created the world in six days - and says that the account in the book of Genesis is an allegory for the way God created the world.
'Big Bang needs God': Pope Francis has declared the prehistoric event that most scientists believe was the beginning of the universe was part of God's Plan
"The Pope's declaration is significant," said Giovanni Bignami, the president of Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics.
"We are the descendants of the Big Bang, which created the universe. You just have to think that in our blood we have a few litres of hydrogen, which was created by the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.
"Our blood is red because it contains iron, which was created by the explosion of a star millions and millions of years ago. Out of creation came evolution."
-- Giovanni Bignami, the president of Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics
Members of the academy, many of them renowned scientists and philosophers, were meeting at the Vatican Oct. 24-28 to discuss "Evolving Concepts of Nature."
Science, philosophy and religion have all contributed to how people see the world, how it began and what it all means, said the introduction to the academy's program.
Despite many scientific advances, many mysteries remain, said Rafael Vicuna, professor of molecular genetics and molecular biology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. While Charles Darwin shed light on the origin of species, one of the most perplexing questions is the actual origin of life, Vicuna said.
How is it that inert, inanimate matter turned into something living, and how is it that the first living single-celled organisms were still so amazingly complex, he asked in his talk Oct. 27.
Chemistry, biology and genetics have been able to identify the tiniest components and basic building blocks of living organisms, but there is something more than just what they are made out of that makes them "living," he said in an interview with the Catholic newspaper, Avvenire.
"I can know perfectly what a cell is made up of, but how it works deep down, what really is the dynamism that makes it move — that is, life — I don't know," Vicuna said. "A refrigerator and a car are complex structures that move, but only with an immense amount of energy from the outside. Life, in its deepest essence, remains something that escapes us."
In his talk to academy members, Vicuna said the laws of chemistry and physics "do not suffice to grasp the whole of life ... that life is more than molecules."
Another mystery is how everything in the universe, from the smallest atomic particles to every galaxy, is spinning and orbiting, another academy member said.
Rudolf Muradyan, a quantum and mathematical physicist who also works in cosmology, said in his talk that spin "is the most important problem in our universe. It is the only thing that prevents the universe from totally collapsing."
Without bodies rotating on an axis or orbiting each other, everything would fall: all the stars would become one giant black hole, the earth would crash into the sun and the moon would collide into the earth, he said.
He said the problem with the Big Bang theory is it explains linear motion, with everything moving outward and expanding from one common point as a result of the "bang," but it does not account for the rotation of celestial objects, and theories that the universe was "born spinning."
Philosophy and religion have to be careful to not make the mistake of trying to solve the mysteries in nature by making God "responsible for a natural process that escapes scientific explanation," Vicuna said.
An example of this, he said, can be found in the intelligent design movement, which accepts that life has evolved over eons but asserts that it is so complex that its development must have been guided by a supreme being or intelligent agent.
Not only are intelligent-design proponents "denying nature's autonomy, but they are also revealing some degree of ingenuousness, because science has already provided explanations for the development" of structures they had considered to be too complex to occur naturally, he said.
However, there is an argument for the "apparent design, order and purpose observed in nature," he said, which is not to be confused with intelligent design and the "God of the gaps."
Pierre Lena, a French Catholic astrophysicist, told the assembly that there are laws at work in the entire universe that are "eternal, creative, uniform in space and time and stable" enough to be fairly predictable.
"But these laws have a mystery. Why are they there? We can't touch them, but they act. They are not God," he said, but they are a sign of the "supranatural existence of something."
He told Catholic News Service that scientists can observe laws working exactly the same way over time and space. This "strange property" means scientists can figure out what most likely happened one billion years ago, as well as "in a remote galaxy and here in this room with the same accuracy."
"If the laws were changing, science would not be possible," Lena said.
Early philosophers like Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine all felt nature's wonder and beauty reflected the beauty and perfection of their maker, Vicuna said.
However, "the existence of a divine creator of life and the universe" comes from personal belief and conviction, not scientific proof; science cannot empirically prove or disprove a God that transcends the natural sciences, he said. 

27 October 2014

Ripples in the fabric of space-time

The crystal clear skies over the Antarctic provided the perfect conditions for scientists to observe the cosmic microwave background 

The apparent discovery of gravitational waves, first predicted by Einstein, opens a new window on the universe. By Paul Davies.
When I was a student in the late 1960s, I recall a lecture where the professor explained how nuclear physics, when applied to the first three minutes after the Big Seed, could explain the basic chemical make-up of the universe. Everyone in the audience burst out laughing: the claim seemed preposterous. In those days cosmology – the study of the birth and evolution of the universe – was barely a science at all, more of a hand-wavy narrative woven around the few known facts.
How things have changed. In March this year a team of cosmologists reported on events that occurred in the first few trillionths of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. And no one laughed. On the contrary, the world was left in awe of the latest revelations about the birth of our universe and, possibly, of countless others. A key part of the discovery involved a phenomenon that has remained tantalisingly elusive since it was first predicted by Einstein in 1916 – gravitational waves. Not only is this discovery – if it is confirmed – welcome new evidence that gravitational waves exist, it opens up a whole new window on the universe by using the waves to explore it. It also brings us a step further in theoretical physics’ ultimate quest: to find a common framework for the laws of gravitation and quantum theory, melding the physics of the very large and the very small.

John Kovac and his team detected the distinctive signature of gravitational waves

It’s this triple whammy - evidence for gravitational waves, the possibility of using them to explore the universe, and a chance at unifying the laws of physics - that is getting everyone so excited. So how, in just a few decades, did scientists get to this extraordinary juncture in our understanding of the cosmos?
To explain, I need to tell two parallel stories. The first concerns the ever more detailed study of the Big Seed. The other is the long search for Einstein’s gravitational waves. The two stories came together this year in the clear skies over the Antarctic. On 16 March, a team of astrophysicists who had been operating a specialised infrared telescope there, led by John Kovac from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, announced that, buried in the signals emanating from the early universe, they had detected the distinctive signature of gravitational waves.

Alan Guth first proposed the theory of inflation, a sudden expansion of the universe a split second after the Big Seed

Let me start by explaining how far we have come in unravelling the mysteries of the cosmic birth. The reason nobody laughs about the first three minutes anymore is because in the past few decades, astronomers have peered into the far universe in unprecedented detail. Radio telescopes have linked up and massively boosted their sensitivity and resolution, while scattered across the mountaintops of the world, huge optical telescopes equipped with light-manipulating wizardry and powerful information processing capabilities have reached further and further out into the universe. And that’s just on the ground. 
Out in space, free from atmospheric interference, the Hubble Space Telescope and a plethora of satellites have been busy scrutinising almost every region of the electromagnetic spectrum. It all adds up to a deluge of information about the universe undreamt of in the 1960s. By peering billions of light years into space, these instruments reach into the cosmic past, unveiling details about the early universe that have transformed cosmology into a respectable quantitative science.

Cosmologists now agree that the universe as we know it began with
an ultra-hot explosion about 13.8 billion years ago.

The one thing everyone knew in the 1960s was that the Universe was expanding. The first inkling that the galaxies were flying apart from each other came from astronomical measurements begun by Vesto Slipher at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1909, but brought to prominence by the famous lawyer-turned-astronomer Edwin Hubble 20 years later. Their observations indicated that fainter, more distant galaxies were generally redder than their nearby counterparts. Known as the cosmological redshift effect, it suggests that distant galaxies are rushing away from us (and each other). An obvious corollary is that the galaxies must have been closer together in the past, a conclusion that set the stage for what was to become the Big Bang theory.
Cosmologists now agree that the universe as we know it began with an ultra-hot explosion about 13.8 billion years ago, and that the searing heat of the primeval explosion left a relic in the universe today in the form of a pervasive afterglow known as the Cosmic Microwave Background or CMB. For about 380,000 years after the Big Seed the universe was so hot that the cosmological material – mainly hydrogen and helium gas – was ionised and opaque. But when the temperature cooled to a few thousand degrees, the material de-ionised and became transparent, allowing the light from the glowing gases to travel largely unimpeded to form the CMB we observe today. It provides an extraordinary snapshot of what the universe was like before the formation of galaxies or the first stars lit up. By mining the CMB for ever more subtle data, cosmologists have been able to reconstruct a detailed history as far back as the first split second.

Telescopes at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station used to examine the CMB. The dish at left is part of the BICEP2 telescope

But right at the outset the CMB presented a conundrum. Early observations showed that it was distributed remarkably smoothly across the sky. In whichever direction astronomers looked it had the same intensity. The reason this was puzzling is best explained with an analogy. Imagine being on a ship at sea, looking out from the crow’s nest. Suppose you spot the mast of another ship lying ahead, just about to disappear over the horizon. Then you swivel and see a similar ship astern, also just on the horizon. Remarkably both ships are exactly the same size. Swivelling around, you keep spotting identical ships on the horizon all around as far as the eye can see. What’s going on? 
Although you can see the other ships, you know they cannot see each other because the distance between them places them well over each other’s horizon. It would seem as if the Admiralty had given every captain the same sailing orders without the captains ever conferring with each other.
It’s like that with our universe. That too has a type of horizon because light can have travelled only a finite distance since the Big Seed. As a result, astronomers on Earth can see regions of the distant universe that themselves are too far apart to see each other – were there anyone out there looking. Because no physical influence can travel faster than light, these cosmic patches cannot have interacted in any way, yet they look very much the same. In particular, the CMB is the same. It seems as if the universe went “sprout” with military precision – leaving open the thorny question of who, or what, played the role of the First Lord of the Admiralty.
There is a further twist in this story. If the universe had started out completely smooth, then there would be a big problem explaining the organisation of today’s universe in which matter is clumped into galaxies and galaxies are clustered into groups. How did this structure form? The explanation must lie with gravitation, which can amplify any little variations in matter density by pulling more and more material into denser regions. For this to work in the time available, there must have been initial “seeds” of structure imprinted in the universe at the outset. But what created these seeds? 
In 1979 came an idea that solved all these conundrums at a stroke. It is called inflation. First mooted by Alan Guth of MIT, in its original version it told a story like this. The original Big Seed may have been messy but a split second afterwards, the universe “inflated” – ballooned from the size of a proton to that of a grapefruit – almost instantaneously, doubling every few trillion trillion trillionths of a second. 
It seems as if the universe went "sprout" with military precision.
Any tiny crinkle in the space-time fabric of the balloon would be ironed out by the phenomenal distension. The observable universe represents one of these ironed out crinkles explaining why what we see in the CMB is so uniform. 
Guth proposed that inflation was driven by a type of muscular antigravity. Though intense, it was unstable and so soon shuddered to a halt, leaving the universe expanding on accumulated momentum, but slowing in rate. The huge energy used to drive inflation was liberated as heat, with the CMB being the last fading remnant.

The heat map from the European Space Agency’s satellite Planck shows slight temperature variations across the sky, in effect a snapshot of the universe frozen in time at about 380,000 years after the Big Seed. The polarisation effects figure shows how a light wave travelling along the x axis will create oscillating electric (red) and magnetic (blue) fields in the perpendicular y and z axes. The light is “polarised in the y direction” in the example above

There have been many refinements to this basic scenario, including a popular version known as eternal inflation, developed by Andrei Linde at Stanford University and Alex Vilenkin at Tufts University. In this variant our universe is but an infinitesimal bubble of space amid an infinity of bubbles, and our Big Seed just one among limitless sprouts scattered throughout space and time.
A bonus of the inflation theory is that it can also explain how the seeds of galaxies were sewn. During the inflationary phase the universe was so small that it would have been subject to the same quantum physics that holds sway at the level of atoms and molecules. Thanks to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, quantum uncertainty is famous. What it means is that at the quantum scale, all physical variables are intrinsically uncertain and can fluctuate over many values. Calculations based on some work I did in 1979 with a PhD student, Tim Bunch, suggest that quantum uncertainty in the antigravity mechanism that drove inflation would cause some regions of space to inflate slightly more than others. Drawing on this work, theoretical cosmologists determined that when inflation ended, some parts of the universe should have been slightly denser than others. 
In 1992, a satellite called COBE (for Cosmic Background Explorer) finally found evidence for those crucial density fluctuations in the CMB, revealed through very slight variations in the temperature – about one part in 100,000 – across the sky. Since COBE, two more satellites, called WMAP (for Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) and Planck, have mapped the thermal variations to greater precision. In all, the satellites’ results strongly support the inflation theory, and the interpretation of the CMB as quantum fluctuations from an ultra-thin slice of time at the very edge of creation, writ large and frozen in the sky.
In a remarkably prescient paper published in 1968, a young Cambridge astronomer, Martin Rees, realised that if the then newly discovered CMB possessed small temperature variations, then the radiation should also be partly polarised. 
To understand what polarised light waves entail, think first of a wave travelling along a rope. The wave can wiggle in any direction - left to right, up and down or any angle in between. Light, which is a form of electromagnetic radiation, does the same, and the direction that the electric field varies in is called the angle of polarisation (see diagram below). Light from a glowing gas contains waves of all possible polarisation angles jumbled up. However, if light scatters or reflects off something, for example, when sunlight reflects off a puddle in the road, it acquires a preferred polarisation in the horizontal plane. (This is the very worst for glare. Polarised sunglasses filter out the horizontally polarised light, allowing only vertically polarised light through.)   

If a gravitational wave travelling perpendicular to the screen passes through the ball on the left, below, the ball distorts, oscillating between the two shapes shown on the right

Rees, now Britain’s Astronomer Royal, reasoned that polarising processes must have happened in the early universe. As the universe cooled and became transparent, light from the glowing primordial gases would have scattered from residual free electrons. Because the intensity of the glow possessed those slight but crucial variations, this polarisation would not average out, but be retained as an imprint in the CMB. The polarisation produced when the light from the bright patches scatters off the electrons dominates over different polarisations coming from other angles.
It took several decades, but in 2002 another South Pole experiment called DASI (for Degree Angular Scale Interferometer), detected the first signs of polarisation in the CMB.
It was this discovery - that events in the early universe can still be read through polarisation in the CMB - that opened the way, as I shall explain, for the detection of gravitational waves.
In 1916 Einstein published his then new masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, replacing Newton’s 17th  century explanation of gravity as a force that reaches across space between any masses – for example, the Sun and the Earth. A characteristic feature of Newton’s theory is that the gravitational force acts instantaneously. Thus, according to Newton, if the Sun were to cease existence at noon tomorrow, the Earth’s orbit would change immediately because of the disappearance of the Sun’s gravitational pull. However, we would not see it blink out until shortly after 12:08pm on account of the fact that light takes more than eight minutes to reach Earth from the Sun. That was a big problem for Einstein because his theory of relativity forbids any physical influence from propagating faster than light. But his new general theory of relativity contained the solution: the speed of gravitation in his equations is exactly the same as the speed of light. Thus if the Sun were to instantly vanish by some magic, the consequent gravitational change would ripple out across space and reach Earth at the same moment that the Sun was seen to go out. 
More generally, Einstein’s theory predicts that changes in the distribution or motion of masses create wavelike disturbances that travel through space at light speed. In a nutshell, a gravitational wave does for the gravitational field what an electromagnetic wave does for the electromagnetic field; it transports energy through space. Whereas an electromagnetic wave might be caused by a disturbance such as accelerating electric charges in a radio antenna, its gravitational counterpart could be accelerating masses, for example, a pair of stars orbiting in a binary system, or the disturbance caused by a supernova explosion. 

Such is the confidence in Einstein’s general theory of relativity ... that physicists are convinced gravitational waves exist. 

Although Einstein’s equations predicted that gravitational waves should exist, detecting them is quite another matter. The basic problem is that gravitation is incredibly weak. To get some idea, think of the hydrogen atom in which an electron orbits a proton, bound by electric attraction. Well, there will also be a gravitational attraction between the proton and the electron. A quick calculation shows that the electric force is a staggering 1040 times stronger than its gravitational counterpart. All this implies that detecting gravitational waves is many orders of magnitude harder than detecting electromagnetic waves. 
This challenge has not, however, deterred a succession of doughty scientists from trying. Such is the confidence in Einstein’s general theory of relativity – which has led to many successful predictions such as the bending of light, gravitational lensing and black holes – that physicists are convinced gravitational waves exist. 
How, then, might a gravitational wave from some far astronomical source manifest itself? The effect of a gravitational wave arriving on Earth is easy to visualise. Just as a radio wave wiggles electric charges in a receiving antenna, so a gravitational wave should wiggle a mass. A metal bar, for example, will be set in vibration. So detecting gravitational waves, generated, say, by a supernova is easy in principle – just look for otherwise inexplicable wobbles in metal bars. In the 1970s, a handful of pioneering scientists built just such gravitational bar detectors. Suspended in a vacuum chamber and isolated from seismic disturbances, the bars were monitored for the slightest tremor. Sadly, nothing definitive turned up.

Data released by the BICEP2 consortium shows the CMB from a patch of sky over the South Pole. The colours show slight temperature variations and the lines represent swirling patterns of light polarisation, the hallmarks of gravitational wave disturbances

But bar detectors were only the first step. A better method was devised using lasers. To see how they work, it is helpful to dwell on one of the central differences between the general theory of relativity and Newton’s theory of gravity. For Newton, gravitation was a force. But Einstein treated it instead as a warping in the geometry of space and time. A gravitational wave, therefore, may be envisaged as a ripple in the fabric of space-time itself. To see what this would do, imagine a tennis ball standing face on to an approaching wave. As the wave passes through the ball, the space-time distortion turns it into an oval, stretching it one direction and compressing it in the perpendicular direction (see diagram above). A pattern of this sort is called a quadrupole, and it is a distinctive signature of gravitational waves.
Translated into practicalities, what this means is that the distance between two points – say, two goal posts on a football field – will wax and wane periodically if a gravitational wave were to pass through the goal. So physicists came up with the idea of suspending mirrors a long way apart and bouncing a laser beam back and forth between them. Any change in the distance between the mirrors would show up in the timing of the laser beam. This is largely the principle behind so-called gravitational wave laser interferometers, like the LIGO Hanford Observatory in Washington State, US, or the Australian one designed by David Blair and his team at the University of Western Australia. To be successful, they need to measure changes in distance so slight they would correspond to the width of a human hair over the distance to the nearest star. So far none of these pieces of equipment has yet registered the slightest shudder. 
Nevertheless, physicists’ faith that gravitational waves existed was bolstered some decades ago with the discovery of a system containing a pair of neutron stars in close mutual orbit. The distance between the two neutron stars can be monitored accurately with radio telescopes because one of the stars emits radio pulses in a highly regular manner. Calculations using the general theory of relativity predict that the orbit of the stars should be slowly decaying as energy is drained out of the system by gravitational waves radiating into space. Sure enough, Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst identified unmistakable signs that the stars were indeed spiralling in towards each other at just the right rate, a discovery for which they were awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics. While these observations do not constitute a direct detection of gravitational waves, they are a convincing confirmation of their emission. And so we arrive at the intersection of the two stories.
The largest source of gravitational waves is likely to be the Big Seed itself, and it is precisely such waves that the latest observations, carried out by an international consortium using an instrument called BICEP2 (for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2), seem to have detected. 
Gravitational waves possess a unique and distinctive quality: their quadrupole nature. As a result, their space distortions twist the direction of polarised light in a distinctive pattern. The situation can be roughly compared to looking at a vista above a campfire, where the shimmering air distorts the image in convoluted ways. Sometimes the features are slightly magnified, sometime twisted or buckled. It is the latter sort of disturbance that the BICEP2 team claims to have found. If the claim holds up, then not only will this be an independent observation of the elusive gravitational waves, but it will expose the fingerprint of a physical process that can be traced back to the epoch of inflation, at the very threshold of creation.
So is it game, set and match to inflation? Not quite. The strength of the polarisation being reported took cosmologists somewhat by surprise, and there has been a surge of papers posted online as theorists scramble to incorporate the latest results into their favourite theory. BICEP2’s measurements will need to be confirmed, most obviously from data garnered by Planck, the European Space Agency’s CMB satellite, which has mapped the whole sky and not just a patch above the South Pole. 
Moreover, not everyone buys into the inflation theory. There are other proposals to solve the problem of why the universe is so smooth overall, but clumpy on galactic scales. Some of these theories posit epochs prior to the Big Seed that might leave a ghostly imprint in the CMB. Having opened up a new window on the very early universe, cosmologists will eagerly suck every bit of information they can from it and study every clue in an attempt to peer back beyond the start of the universe as we know it.
Even accepting inflation, there are many variants to choose from. One of the issues concerns the energy scale at which inflation happened. Theorists think that the antigravity mechanism can be attributed to a type of field that permeates all space, similar in type, but not in strength, to the one linked to the famous Higgs boson. But the titanic energy needed to create the Higgs is a trillion times lower than that invoked for most models of inflation. Depending on how the polarisation results work out, that enormous inflation energy scale might have to be pushed even higher, towards the all-important point at which all the forces of nature should merge into a single entity. Known as “the Planck scale”, it also marks the energy at which quantum theory and gravitation completely merge, a regime in which zany ideas like strings, space-time foam and extra dimensions come into play. Whether these more exotic effects have left traces buried in the CMB may raise a chuckle from sceptics today. But in another 40 years, who knows? I still hear the echo of the laughter in that lecture room in 1969.