Despite advances in observational astronomy and experimental physics, the latest theories always seem to be slightly out of reach. Scientists use computer simulations to test these theories, looking for potential consequences that can be observed. Simulations are constantly being improved, and one of the latest might open a window into the first few minutes of the universe.
The new computer code, BURST, simulates different scenarios for what might have occurred immediately after the Big Bang by playing with the role and abundances of neutrinos and other fundamental particles. The predictions that the code delivers are as yet untestable, but the next generation of extremely large telescopes currently being built should be able to pick which is the correct scenario.
“The BURST computer code allows physicists to exploit the early universe as a laboratory to study the effect of fundamental particles present in the early universe,” said Mark Paris, co-author of the research, in a statement.
“Our new work in neutrino cosmology allows the study of the microscopic, quantum nature of fundamental particles – the basic, subatomic building blocks of nature – by simulating the universe at its largest, cosmological scale.”
The paper in which the code is showcased, published in Physical Review D, focuses on how neutrinos interact with themselves and other particles, the nuclear reaction happening and how the primordial plasma evolved. The researchers show, for example, that tweaks to the simulation lead to different abundances of deuterium, a hydrogen atom with a proton and a neutron. New telescopes could help established how much deuterium was produced and thus select certain models over others.
“The frontiers of fundamental physics have traditionally been studied with particle colliders, such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, by smashing together subatomic particles at great energies,” said University of California San Diego physicist George Fuller, who collaborated with Paris and other staff scientists at Los Alamos to develop the novel theoretical model.
He went on to explain: “Our ‘self-consistent’ approach, achieved for the first time by simultaneously describing all the particles involved, increases the precision of our calculations. This allows us to investigate exotic fundamental particles that are currently the subject of intense theoretical speculation.”
The BURST code allows for a new tool in answering the most fascinating puzzles in cosmology. Even without observations, it could take us closer to understanding dark energy, dark matter, and where the universe came from.