Simulating the Universe a Trillionth of a Second After the Big Bang

The Big Bang remains the best way to explain what happened at the beginning of the Universe.   However, the incredible energies flowing during the early part of the bang are almost incomprehensive to our everyday experience.  Luckily, computers aren’t so attached to normal human ways of thinking and have long been used to model the early universe right after the Bang.  Now, a team from the University of Göttingen have created the most comprehensive model of what exactly happened in that very early stage of the universe – one trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

Just because a computer can model it doesn’t really mean it is easy to explain, however.  The model includes clumps of energy weighing grams, but which are one millionth the size of a single proton.  These energy structures defined what would eventually become the structure of the universe today, with tiny variations in the original structure resulting in entire galaxies or complete voids, depending on the presence or absence of matter.

The Big Bang timeline of the Universe. Cosmic neutrinos affect the CMB at the time it was emitted, and physics takes care of the rest of their evolution until today.
The Big Bang timeline of the Universe. Cosmic neutrinos affect the CMB at the time it was emitted, and physics takes care of the rest of their evolution until today.
Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / A. Kashlinsky (GSFC).

Throwing this much computing power at a physical space one millionth the size of a proton was no mean feat.  “It is probably the largest simulation of the smallest area of the Universe that has been carried out thus far” says Professor Jens Niemeyer, who leads the group carrying out the research.

Other interesting outcomes from all that computing power hint at some potential experimental breakthrough in understanding the physics of what is currently a highly theoretical world. According to the model the team developed, the morphing of some of these early stage energy structures into more common elemental particles could result in gravitational waves.  The team believes they can predict the strength of these waves, which could potentially be measured by facilities such as LIGO.  

A more difficult to detect result could come from the annihilation of the energy structures rather than their metamorphosis.  If destroyed in the right way, the structures could create tiny black holes, whose signs could potentially still be observable today.  Alternatively, and every more theoretically, those collapsing energy structures could play a role in dark matter, an as yet unknown substance that actually makes up the majority of the matter in the universe as we know it.

If and when the experimental detection of any of those proposed results would come is unknown as of yet.  But as computers and sensors get better, it’s more likely that we will continue to refine both our models for this very early period of the universe and our search for any of its lingering effects.

Learn More:
University of Göttingen – The very first structures of the Universe
Physical Review D – Formation of inflaton halos after inflation
UT – Watch a Simulation of a Galaxy, From the Big Bang Until the Present Day

Lead Image:
Results from the simulation that show small, extremely dense structures. Credit: Jens Niemeyer, University of Göttingen

One Reply to “Simulating the Universe a Trillionth of a Second After the Big Bang”

  1. This paper and its press release rubs me the wrong way in so many ways, despite that they do explore a mechanism among several that a general inflation field can thermalize.

    First, they use a classical idea of inflation from Guth, where it is hypothesized that inflation is temporary and in a false vacuum state of a so called “inflaton” [ ]. So when the paper refer to slow roll, it is not the observationally preferred Higgs like field which can exit through a first order transition, a second order transition or a crossover, it is decidedly a first order exit to the true vacuum.

    Second, that means they have already, without mentioning it, solved the matter-antimatter problem and so thermalize by way of unstable, massive inflaton particles condensing and later decaying.

    It is likely not how our universe behaves. But it is a toy model which has some interesting properties of imprinting the inflation field fluctuations onto a thermalized hot big bang state.

    I must say that the article here is a bit of a ride as well, since the toy model is based on inflation theory, which since 40ish years has been the best way to explain what happened before the hot big bang.

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