The infant universe's rapid expansion. NASA/WMAP © 2006.
Yes, it's the time of year for big conventions and all sorts of news and ideas are floating around. The Mars Society announced on July 23 that one of the keynotes at their annual convention, this year in Dayton, Ohio in early August, will be Dr. David Chuss of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, will be presenting a plenary session entitled The Early Universe which will discuss the epoch of rapid accelerated expansion, called "inflation", that happened within the first nano-second of the history of the universe." Chuss is an expert in "astronomical polarimetry and is currently working on several projects that will endeavor to measure the polarization of the afterglow of the Big Bang, the Cosmic Microwave Background, in an attempt to probe the earliest instants of the Universe." Research in Dr. Chuss's field is based on findings from a spacecraft that measures the heat remaining from the Big Bang, that is, the oldest light in the universe.
A report at Universe Today defines 'inflation' as a process that began with the big bang, after which "quantum fluctuations – short-lived bursts of energy at the subatomic level – were converted by the rapid inflationary expansion into fluctuations of matter that ultimately enabled stars and galaxies to form." The idea was proposed 25 years ago, but was not supported with hard evidence until 2006. The report states the picture of the infant universe above was "made with NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) ... based on three years of continuous observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the afterglow light produced when the universe was less than a million years old. ... This is a milestone in cosmology. 'We can now distinguish between different versions of what happened within the first trillionth of a second of the universe,' said WMAP Principal Investigator Charles Bennett of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore."