Scientists Have Modeled What Gravitiational Waves From The Big Bang Might Look Like

Gravitational waves of two black holes merging. Tim Pyle

No matter how good our telescopes get, we will never see the Big Bang. To even peer close to the beginning of the universe, our best bet is to use gravitational waves.

Physicists from the University of Basel, Switzerland, have looked into what gravitational signals might be coming from the primordial universe and they have now got a model for a particular type of gravitational wave. Their results are published in Physical Review Letters.

A tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, the universe experienced a period of exponential expansion known as inflation. We don’t know what started it yet, but some physicists believe it to be caused by a force field and its associated particle known as the inflaton.

When cosmic inflation started, the whole visible universe was compressed into a space about the size of a basketball. The energies at play were tremendous, spacetime was incredibly turbulent, and these inflatons were able to form clumps that oscillate in specific regions of space. Scientists call these regions oscillons (yes, physicists are not very imaginative with names).

The team discovered that the oscillons that were not symmetric were capable of producing very distinct gravitational waves. More importantly, these signals should be detectable.  

“We would not have thought before our calculations that oscillons could produce such a strong signal at a specific frequency,” Professor Stefan Antusch, lead author of the research, said in a statement. “Although the oscillons have long since ceased to exist, the gravitational waves they emitted are omnipresent – and we can use them to look further into the past than ever before.”

A computer simulation of the asymmetric oscillation, a fluctuation in the inflation field. Department of physics, University of Basel.

The researchers think that the oscillons can strongly enhance the chances for gravitational wave detectors like LIGO to spot primordial gravitational waves. Only time will tell if this model is correct, but it is important to model what potential signals might look like. The better we know the signal, the easier it is for researchers to find it in the LIGO detections.

 

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