"Physicists announced Thursday that they now have the smoking gun that shows the universe went through extremely rapid expansion in the moments after the big bang, growing from the size of a marble to a volume larger than all of observable space in less than a trillion-trillionth of a second.
The discovery - which involves an analysis of variations in the brightness of microwave radiation - is the first direct evidence to support the two-decade-old theory that the universe went through what is called inflation.
It also helps explain how matter eventually clumped together into planets, stars and galaxies in a universe that began as a remarkably smooth, superhot soup.
'It's giving us our first clues about how inflation took place,' said Michael Turner, assistant director for mathematics and physical sciences at the National Science Foundation. 'This is absolutely amazing.'"