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Space inflation puts physicists' bet in jeopardy

One of the biggest scientific claims of the year has received another set-back, putting the result of a bet between two significant physicists in jeopardy.

In March, the Today programme reported on news that the US BICEP team said it had found a pattern on the sky left by the rapid expansion of space just fractions of a second after the Big Bang.

Speaking on the Today programme in March, professor Steven Hawking remarked that the finding was "another confirmation of inflation", the idea that the Universe experienced an exponential growth spurt in its first fraction of a second. He added: "It also means I win a bet with Neil Turok. His Cyclic Universe Theory predicts no gravitational waves from the early universe."

However, new data has found that the group may have underestimated the confounding effects of dust in our own galaxy.

Speaking to Today programme presenter Evan Davis in light of the new data, Neil Turok explained the significance of the result:

"The BICEP 2 experiment claimed that 20% of the fluctuations emerging from the big bang were due to these gravitation waves, the specific signature of inflation happening... but now what's happened is that the Planck Satellite has come out with more data confirming that the limit is less than 10%."

"I contacted Steven and said 'let's refine this bet'... it is of course irrelevant who wins the bet," he added.

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday 23 September.

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