The latest data and theories on cosmic inflation and the origins of the universe will be discussed at a conference at the University of California, Davis, March 22-25.
The meeting comes at a profoundly exciting time in cosmology, as a flood of data from satellites and balloon experiments allows cosmologists to put their theories to the test. The Davis meeting will be the first opportunity for major figures in the field to debate findings from NASA's Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) satellite, said UC Davis cosmologist Andreas Albrecht, one of the principal organizers of the meeting.
Confirmed external speakers include Alan Guth, MIT; Andre Linde, Stanford University; Stephen Hawking, Cambridge University, England; Martin Rees, Cambridge University and Astronomer Royal, England; Paul Steinhardt, Princeton University; David Spergel, Princeton University; Michael Turner, University of Chicago; and Joe Silk, Oxford University, England, among others.
In addition to the scientific meeting, Hawking will give two public lectures at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis on March 23 and 28. Rees will also give a public lecture in Davis on March 31.
Cosmic inflation theory, first formulated 20 years ago by Alan Guth, holds that the universe expanded very rapidly in a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang. This inflation magnified slight differences in the primordial material and the first stars and galaxies then coalesced around these "wrinkles." Cosmologists can study these wrinkles by looking at the background of microwave energy in the universe -- a faint afterglow of the Big Bang.
The theory has been used to explain questions such as how and why galaxies formed, and why the universe seems to be flat.
"Cosmic inflation is attractive because it explains things that are mysterious in the standard Big Bang model," Albrecht said.
Albrecht likens the universe to a pencil standing on its point. When you see a pencil standing on end, you know something must have put it there and stops it from falling into an apparently more stable position.
"Inflation is the scheme that puts the pencil on its point," he said.