Washington: Astronomers have tried to peek into the cosmos` first fraction of a second and possibly shed light on how it all began.
Scientists have spotted swirling patterns in the radiation lingering from the big bang, the so-called cosmic microwave background (CMB), Science Now reported.
The observation itself isn`t Earth-shaking as researchers know that these particular swirls or "B-modes" originated in conventional astrophysics, but the result suggests that scientists are closing in on a much bigger prize: B-modes spawned by gravity waves that rippled through the infant universe.
"I see it as a big step forward," Charles Bennett, a cosmologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, who was not involved in the work, said.
"I take it as a hopeful sign that we can get to the gravitational-wave signal," he said.
Since it was discovered in 1965, the CMB has proved a fount of information for cosmologists.
In 1992, NASA Cosmic Background Explorer (Cobe) probe measured the spectrum of the radiation, which has cooled as the universe expanded, and found that it had the characteristics that one would expect if the universe had been born in a single burst.
Cobe also detected part-in-100,000 variations in the temperature of the CMB across the sky, which would reveal much about the cosmos.
By 2003, NASA`s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe and other experiments had studied those variations statistically and found that they fit a model in which the universe consisted of 5 percent ordinary matter, 24 percent mysterious dark matter whose gravity binds the galaxies, and 71 percent bizarre space-stretching dark energy.
That standard cosmological model was strongly confirmed earlier this year by the European Space Agency`s (ESA`s) Planck space probe.
But the CMB may have more information in store.
According to the standard cosmology, the temperature variations reflect tiny quantum fluctuations in the newborn universe.
These fluctuations were blown up to immense size in the first fraction of a second when the universe doubled and redoubled its size 60 times over in a faster-than-light growth spurt known as inflation.