UPDATE: Galactic Cosmic Rays Continue to Rise and Human Effect

Yes, it’s me. Happy to be presenting the latest news and research as it occurs. It does appear published findings are reflective of my 2012 Equation.  Cheers, Mitch

Radiation is a form of energy that is emitted in the form of rays, electromagnetic waves, and/or particles. In some cases, radiation can be seen (visible light) or felt (infrared radiation), while other forms – like x-rays and gamma rays – are not visible and can only be observed with special equipment.

Galactic Cosmic Ray collisions in the body can be harmful because they can damage the DNA in cells. Remember, a single cosmic ray has a large amount of energy. If it collides with DNA, it will destroy part of that DNA strand. DNA contains instructions for the cell to function properly. When the DNA is damaged, the cell will malfunction. Usually the cell will then die, but sometimes it can reproduce itself. If that happens on a large enough scale, the person may develop cancer.

Galactic Cosmic radiation is a well-known cause of single-event upsets (SEU) on disruption to electrical circuits in electronic devices. It most commonly occurs with devices such as laptop computers, cell phones, and personal digital assistants. Research presented by the Heart Rhythm Society, indicate some patients with Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillators (ICDs) who experienced ionizing radiation strikes that discharged elements in the Defib during air travel, may be attributed to exposure of Galactic Cosmic Radiation while on commercial airline flights. These cases highlight the significant impact of SEUs on ICD patients clinical and the need for further recognition and study of this problem.

NASA’s Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER), studies radiation environment and its biological impacts by measuring galactic and solar cosmic ray radiation behind a “human tissue-equivalent” plastic.

MOVIE – CLICK HERE

CRaTER investigation goals are to measure and characterize the deep space radiation environment in terms of Linear Energy Transfer (LET) spectra of galactic and solar cosmic rays (particularly above 10 MeV) in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). It will also investigate the effects of shielding by measuring LET spectra behind tissue-equivalent plastic. Test models of radiation effects and shielding by verifying/validating model predictions of LET spectra with LRO measurements.

Stay Tuned For Ongoing News and Events

 

An Overlooked Piece Of The Solar Dynamo Puzzle

 

A previously unobserved mechanism is at work in the Sun’s rotating plasma: a magnetic instability, which scientists had thought was physically impossible under these conditions. The effect might even play a crucial role in the formation of the Sun’s magnetic field, say researchers from Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), the University of Leeds and the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) in the journal Physical Review Fluids.

Just like an enormous dynamo, the sun’s magnetic field is generated by electric currents. In order to better understand this self-reinforcing mechanism, researchers must elucidate the processes and flows in the solar plasma. Differing rotation speeds in different regions and complex flows in the sun’s interior combine to generate the magnetic field. In the process, unusual magnetic effects can occur — like this newly discovered magnetic instability.

Researchers have coined the term “Super HMRI” for this recently observed special case of magnetorotational instability (MRI). It is a magnetic mechanism that causes the rotating, electroconductive fluids and gases in a magnetic field to become unstable. What is special about this case is that the Super HMRI requires exactly the same conditions that prevail in the plasma close to the solar equator — the place where astrophysicists observe the most sunspots and, thus, the Sun’s greatest magnetic activity. So far, however, this instability in the Sun had gone completely unnoticed and is not yet integrated in models of the solar dynamo.

It is, nonetheless, known that magnetic instabilities are crucially involved in many processes in the universe. Stars and planets, for example, are generated by large rotating disks of dust and gas. In the absence of a magnetic field, this process would be inexplicable. Magnetic instabilities cause turbulence in the flows within the disks and thus enable the mass to agglomerate into a central object. Like a rubber band, the magnetic field connects neighboring layers that rotate at different speeds. It accelerates the slow particles of matter at the edges and slows down the fast ones on the inside. There the centrifugal force is not strong enough and the matter collapses into the center. Near the solar equator it behaves precisely the other way around. The inner layers move more slowly than the outer ones. Up to now, experts had considered this kind of flow profile to be physically extremely stable.

The researchers at HZDR, the University of Leeds and AIP still decided to investigate it more thoroughly. In the case of a circular magnetic field, they had already calculated that even when fluids and gases were rotating faster on the outside, magnetic instability could occur. However, only under unrealistic conditions: the rotational speed would have to increase too strongly towards the outer edge.

Trying another approach, they now based their investigations on a helical magnetic field. “We didn’t have any great expectations, but then we were in for a genuine surprise,” HZDR’s Dr. Frank Stefani remembers — because the magnetic instability can already occur when the speed between the rotating layers of plasma only increases slightly — which happens in the region of the Sun closest to the equator.

“This new instability could play an important role in generating the sun’s magnetic field,” Stefani estimates. “But in order to confirm it we first need to do further numerically complicated calculations.” Prof. Günther Rüdiger of AIP adds, “Astrophysicists and climate researchers still hope to better understand the cycle of sunspots. Perhaps the ‘Super HMRI’ we have now found will take us a decisive step forward. We’ll check it out.”

With its various specialisms in magnetohydrodynamics and astrophysics, the interdisciplinary research team has been investigating magnetic instabilities — in the lab, on paper and with the aid of sophisticated simulations — for more than 15 years. The scientists want to improve physical models, understand cosmic magnetic fields and develop innovative liquid metal batteries. Thanks to close cooperation, in 2006, they managed to experimentally prove the theory of magnetorotational instability for the first time. They are now planning the test for the special form they have predicted in theory: In a large-scale experiment that is currently being set up in the DRESDYN project at HZDR, they want to study this magnetic instability in the lab.

2019 Nobel Prize In Physics: Evolution Of The Universe And Discovery Of Exoplanet Orbiting Solar-Type Star

 

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2019 “for contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos” with one half to James Peebles of Princeton University, USA, “for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology” and the other half jointly to Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and the University of Cambridge, UK, “for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star.”

New perspectives on our place in the universe

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics rewards new understanding of the universe’s structure and history, and the first discovery of a planet orbiting a solar-type star outside our solar system.

James Peebles’ insights into physical cosmology have enriched the entire field of research and laid a foundation for the transformation of cosmology over the last fifty years, from speculation to science. His theoretical framework, developed since the mid-1960s, is the basis of our contemporary ideas about the universe.

The Big Bang model describes the universe from its very first moments, almost 14 billion years ago, when it was extremely hot and dense. Since then, the universe has been expanding, becoming larger and colder. Barely 400,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe became transparent and light rays were able to travel through space. Even today, this ancient radiation is all around us and, coded into it, many of the universe’s secrets are hiding. Using his theoretical tools and calculations, James Peebles was able to interpret these traces from the infancy of the universe and discover new physical processes.

The results showed us a universe in which just five per cent of its content is known, the matter which constitutes stars, planets, trees — and us. The rest, 95 per cent, is unknown dark matter and dark energy. This is a mystery and a challenge to modern physics.

In October 1995, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz announced the first discovery of a planet outside our solar system, an exoplanet, orbiting a solar-type star in our home galaxy, the Milky Way. At the Haute-Provence Observatory in southern France, using custom-made instruments, they were able to see planet 51 Pegasi b, a gaseous ball comparable with the solar system’s biggest gas giant, Jupiter.

This discovery started a revolution in astronomy and over 4,000 exoplanets have since been found in the Milky Way. Strange new worlds are still being discovered, with an incredible wealth of sizes, forms and orbits. They challenge our preconceived ideas about planetary systems and are forcing scientists to revise their theories of the physical processes behind the origins of planets. With numerous projects planned to start searching for exoplanets, we may eventually find an answer to the eternal question of whether other life is out there.

This year’s Laureates have transformed our ideas about the cosmos. While James Peebles’ theoretical discoveries contributed to our understanding of how the universe evolved after the Big Bang, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz explored our cosmic neighbourhoods on the hunt for unknown planets. Their discoveries have forever changed our conceptions of the world.

James Peebles, born 1935 in Winnipeg, Canada. Ph.D. 1962 from Princeton University, USA. Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton University, USA.

Michel Mayor, born 1942 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Ph.D. 1971 from University of Geneva, Switzerland. Professor at University of Geneva, Switzerland.

Didier Queloz, born 1966. Ph.D. 1995 from University of Geneva, Switzerland. Professor at University of Geneva, Switzerland and University of Cambridge, UK.

Prize amount: 9 million Swedish krona, with one half to James Peebles and the other half jointly to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz

Galactic Fountains And Carousels: Order Emerging From Chaos

 

Scientists from Germany and the United States have unveiled the results of a newly-completed, state of the art simulation of the evolution of galaxies. TNG50 is the most detailed large-scale cosmological simulation yet. It allows researchers to study in detail how galaxies form, and how they have evolved since shortly after the Big Bang. For the first time, it reveals that the geometry of the cosmic gas flows around galaxies determines galaxies’ structures, and vice versa. The researchers publish their results in two papers in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Astronomers running cosmological simulations face a fundamental trade-off: with finite computing power, typical simulations so far have been either very detailed or have spanned a large volume of virtual space, but have so far not been able to do both. Detailed simulations with limited volumes can model no more than a few galaxies, making statistical deductions difficult. Large-volume simulations, in turn, typically lack the details necessary to reproduce many of the small-scale properties we observe in our own Universe, reducing their predictive power.

The TNG50 simulation, which has just been published, manages to avoid this trade-off. For the first time, it combines the idea of a large-scale cosmological simulation — a Universe in a box — with the computational resolution of “zoom” simulations, at a level of detail that had previously only been possible for studies of individual galaxies.

In a simulated cube of space that is more than 230 million light-years across, TNG50 can discern physical phenomena that occur on scales one million times smaller, tracing the simultaneous evolution of thousands of galaxies over 13.8 billion years of cosmic history. It does so with more than 20 billion particles representing dark (invisible) matter, stars, cosmic gas, magnetic fields, and supermassive black holes. The calculation itself required 16,000 cores on the Hazel Hen supercomputer in Stuttgart, working together, 24/7, for more than a year — the equivalent of fifteen thousand years on a single processor, making it one of the most demanding astrophysical computations to date.

The first scientific results from TNG50 are published by a team led by Dr Annalisa Pillepich (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg) and Dr Dylan Nelson (Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Garching) and reveal unforeseen physical phenomena. According to Nelson: “Numerical experiments of this kind are particularly successful when you get out more than you put in. In our simulation, we see phenomena that had not been programmed explicitly into the simulation code. These phenomena emerge in a natural fashion, from the complex interplay of the basic physical ingredients of our model universe.”

TNG50 features two prominent examples for this kind of emergent behaviour. The first concerns the formation of “disc” galaxies like our own Milky Way. Using the simulation as a time machine to rewind the evolution of cosmic structure, researchers have seen how the well-ordered, rapidly rotating disc galaxies (which are common in our nearby Universe) emerge from chaotic, disorganised, and highly turbulent clouds of gas at earlier epochs.

As the gas settles down, newborn stars are typically found on more and more circular orbits, eventually forming large spiral galaxies — galactic carousels. Annalisa Pillepich explains: “In practice, TNG50 shows that our own Milky Way galaxy with its thin disc is at the height of galaxy fashion: over the past 10 billion years, at least those galaxies that are still forming new stars have become more and more disc-like, and their chaotic internal motions have decreased considerably. The Universe was much messier when it was just a few billion years old!”

As these galaxies flatten out, researchers found another emergent phenomenon, involving the high-speed outflows and winds of gas flowing out of galaxies. This launched as a result of the explosions of massive stars (supernovae) and activity from supermassive black holes found at the heart of galaxies. Galactic gaseous outflows are initially also chaotic and flow away in all directions, but over time, they begin to become more focused along a path of least resistance.

In the late universe, flows out of galaxies take the form of two cones, emerging in opposite directions — like two ice cream cones placed tip to tip, with the galaxy swirling at the centre. These flows of material slow down as they attempt to leave the gravitational well of the galaxy’s halo of invisible — or dark — matter, and can eventually stall and fall back, forming a galactic fountain of recycled gas. This process redistributes gas from the centre of a galaxy to its outskirts, further accelerating the transformation of the galaxy itself into a thin disc: galactic structure shapes galactic fountains, and vice versa.

The team of scientists creating TNG50 (based at Max-Planck-Institutes in Garching and Heidelberg, Harvard University, MIT, and the Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA)) will eventually release all simulation data to the astronomy community at large, as well as to the public. This will allow astronomers all over the world to make their own discoveries in the TNG50 universe — and possibly find additional examples of emergent cosmic phenomena, of order emerging from chaos.

Voyager 2 Reaches Interstellar Space

 

Researchers at the University of Iowa report that the spacecraft Voyager 2 has entered the interstellar medium (ISM), the region of space outside the bubble-shaped boundary produced by wind streaming outward from the sun. Voyager 2, thus, becomes the second human-made object to journey out of our sun’s influence, following Voyager 1’s solar exit in 2012.

In a new study, the researchers confirm Voyager 2’s passage on Nov. 5, 2018, into the ISM by noting a definitive jump in plasma density detected by an Iowa-led plasma wave instrument on the spacecraft. The marked increase in plasma density is evidence of Voyager 2 journeying from the hot, lower-density plasma characteristic of the solar wind to the cool, higher-density plasma of interstellar space. It’s also similar to the plasma density jump experienced by Voyager 1 when it crossed into interstellar space.

“In a historical sense, the old idea that the solar wind will just be gradually whittled away as you go further into interstellar space is simply not true,” says Iowa’s Don Gurnett, corresponding author on the study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy. “We show with Voyager 2 — and previously with Voyager 1 — that there’s a distinct boundary out there. It’s just astonishing how fluids, including plasmas, form boundaries.”

Gurnett, professor emeritus in the UI Department of Physics and Astronomy, is the principal investigator on the plasma wave instrument aboard Voyager 2. He is also the principal investigator on the plasma wave instrument aboard Voyager 1 and authored the 2013 study published in Science that confirmed Voyager 1 had entered the ISM.

Voyager 2’s entry into the ISM occurred at 119.7 astronomical units (AU), or more than 11 billion miles from the sun. Voyager 1 passed into the ISM at 122.6 AU. The spacecraft were launched within weeks of each other in 1977, with different mission goals and trajectories through space. Yet they crossed into the ISM at basically the same distances from the sun.

That gives valuable clues to the structure of the heliosphere — the bubble, shaped much like a wind sock, created by the sun’s wind as it extends to the boundary of the solar system.

“It implies that the heliosphere is symmetric, at least at the two points where the Voyager spacecraft crossed,” says Bill Kurth, University of Iowa research scientist and a co-author on the study. “That says that these two points on the surface are almost at the same distance.”

“There’s almost a spherical front to this,” adds Gurnett. “It’s like a blunt bullet.”

Data from the Iowa instrument on Voyager 2 also gives additional clues to the thickness of the heliosheath, the outer region of the heliosphere and the point where the solar wind piles up against the approaching wind in interstellar space, which Gurnett likens to the effect of a snowplow on a city street.

The Iowa researchers say the heliosheath has varied thickness, based on data showing Voyager 1 sailed 10 AU farther than its twin to reach the heliopause, a boundary where the solar wind and the interstellar wind are in balance and considered the crossing point to interstellar space. Some had thought Voyager 2 would make that crossing first, based on models of the heliosphere.

“It’s kind of like looking at an elephant with a microscope,” Kurth says. “Two people go up to an elephant with a microscope, and they come up with two different measurements. You have no idea what’s going on in between. What the models do is try to take information that we have from those two points and what we’ve learned through the flight and put together a global model of the heliosphere that matches those observations.”

The last measurement obtained from Voyager 1 was when the spacecraft was at 146 AU, or more than 13.5 billion miles from the sun. The plasma wave instrument is recording that the plasma density is rising, in data feeds from a spacecraft now so far away that it takes more than 19 hours for information to travel from the spacecraft to Earth.

“The two Voyagers will outlast Earth,” Kurth says. “They’re in their own orbits around the galaxy for five billion years or longer. And the probability of them running into anything is almost zero.”

“They might look a little worn by then,” Gurnett adds with a smile.

The Iowa study is one of five papers on Voyager 2 published in Nature Astronomy. These papers confirm the passage of Voyager 2 to interstellar space and provide details on the characteristics of the heliopause.

Gurnett and Kurth are the study’s sole authors. Their research was funded by NASA, through a contract with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Black Holes Stunt Growth Of Dwarf Galaxies

 

Astronomers at the University of California, Riverside, have discovered that powerful winds driven by supermassive black holes in the centers of dwarf galaxies have a significant impact on the evolution of these galaxies by suppressing star formation.

Dwarf galaxies are small galaxies that contain between 100 million to a few billion stars. In contrast, the Milky Way has 200-400 billion stars. Dwarf galaxies are the most abundant galaxy type in the universe and often orbit larger galaxies.

The team of three astronomers was surprised by the strength of the detected winds.

“We expected we would need observations with much higher resolution and sensitivity, and we had planned on obtaining these as a follow-up to our initial observations,” said Gabriela Canalizo, a professor of physics and astronomy at UC Riverside, who led the research team. “But we could see the signs strongly and clearly in the initial observations. The winds were stronger than we had anticipated.”

Canalizo explained that astronomers have suspected for the past couple of decades that supermassive black holes at the centers of large galaxies can have a profound influence on the way large galaxies grow and age.

“Our findings now indicate that their effect can be just as dramatic, if not more dramatic, in dwarf galaxies in the universe,” she said.

Study results appear in The Astrophysical Journal.

The researchers, who also include Laura V. Sales, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy; and Christina M. Manzano-King, a doctoral student in Canalizo’s lab, used a portion of the data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which maps more than 35% of the sky, to identify 50 dwarf galaxies, 29 of which showed signs of being associated with black holes in their centers. Six of these 29 galaxies showed evidence of winds — specifically, high-velocity ionized gas outflows — emanating from their active black holes.

“Using the Keck telescopes in Hawaii, we were able to not only detect, but also measure specific properties of these winds, such as their kinematics, distribution, and power source — the first time this has been done,” Canalizo said. “We found some evidence that these winds may be changing the rate at which the galaxies are able to form stars.”

Manzano-King, the first author of the research paper, explained that many unanswered questions about galaxy evolution can be understood by studying dwarf galaxies.

“Larger galaxies often form when dwarf galaxies merge together,” she said. “Dwarf galaxies are, therefore, useful in understanding how galaxies evolve. Dwarf galaxies are small because after they formed, they somehow avoided merging with other galaxies. Thus, they serve as fossils by revealing what the environment of the early universe was like. Dwarf galaxies are the smallest galaxies in which we are directly seeing winds — gas flows up to 1,000 kilometers per second — for the first time.”

Manzano-King explained that as material falls into a black hole, it heats up due to friction and strong gravitational fields and releases radiative energy. This energy pushes ambient gas outward from the center of the galaxy into intergalactic space.

“What’s interesting is that these winds are being pushed out by active black holes in the six dwarf galaxies rather than by stellar processes such as supernovae,” she said. “Typically, winds driven by stellar processes are common in dwarf galaxies and constitute the dominant process for regulating the amount of gas available in dwarf galaxies for forming stars.”

Astronomers suspect that when wind emanating from a black hole is pushed out, it compresses the gas ahead of the wind, which can increase star formation. But if all the wind gets expelled from the galaxy’s center, gas becomes unavailable and star formation could decrease. The latter appears to be what is occurring in the six dwarf galaxies the researchers identified.

“In these six cases, the wind has a negative impact on star formation,” Sales said. “Theoretical models for the formation and evolution of galaxies have not included the impact of black holes in dwarf galaxies. We are seeing evidence, however, of a suppression of star formation in these galaxies. Our findings show that galaxy formation models must include black holes as important, if not dominant, regulators of star formation in dwarf galaxies.”

Next, the researchers plan to study the mass and momentum of gas outflows in dwarf galaxies.

“This would better inform theorists who rely on such data to build models,” Manzano-King said. “These models, in turn, teach observational astronomers just how the winds affect dwarf galaxies. We also plan to do a systematic search in a larger sample of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to identify dwarf galaxies with outflows originating in active black holes.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Hellman Foundation. Data was obtained at the W. M. Keck Observatory, and made possible by financial support from the W. M. Keck Foundation.

Putting The ‘Bang’ In The Big Bang

 

As the Big Bang theory goes, somewhere around 13.8 billion years ago the universe exploded into being, as an infinitely small, compact fireball of matter that cooled as it expanded, triggering reactions that cooked up the first stars and galaxies, and all the forms of matter that we see (and are) today.

Just before the Big Bang launched the universe onto its ever-expanding course, physicists believe, there was another, more explosive phase of the early universe at play: cosmic inflation, which lasted less than a trillionth of a second. During this period, matter — a cold, homogeneous goop — inflated exponentially quickly before processes of the Big Bang took over to more slowly expand and diversify the infant universe.

Recent observations have independently supported theories for both the Big Bang and cosmic inflation. But the two processes are so radically different from each other that scientists have struggled to conceive of how one followed the other.

Now physicists at MIT, Kenyon College, and elsewhere have simulated in detail an intermediary phase of the early universe that may have bridged cosmic inflation with the Big Bang. This phase, known as “reheating,” occurred at the end of cosmic inflation and involved processes that wrestled inflation’s cold, uniform matter into the ultrahot, complex soup that was in place at the start of the Big Bang.

“The postinflation reheating period sets up the conditions for the Big Bang, and in some sense puts the ‘bang’ in the Big Bang,” says David Kaiser, the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and professor of physics at MIT. “It’s this bridge period where all hell breaks loose and matter behaves in anything but a simple way.”

Kaiser and his colleagues simulated in detail how multiple forms of matter would have interacted during this chaotic period at the end of inflation. Their simulations show that the extreme energy that drove inflation could have been redistributed just as quickly, within an even smaller fraction of a second, and in a way that produced conditions that would have been required for the start of the Big Bang.

The team found this extreme transformation would have been even faster and more efficient if quantum effects modified the way that matter responded to gravity at very high energies, deviating from the way Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts matter and gravity should interact.

“This enables us to tell an unbroken story, from inflation to the postinflation period, to the Big Bang and beyond,” Kaiser says. “We can trace a continuous set of processes, all with known physics, to say this is one plausible way in which the universe came to look the way we see it today.”

The team’s results appear today in Physical Review Letters. Kaiser’s co-authors are lead author Rachel Nguyen, and John T. Giblin, both of Kenyon College, and former MIT graduate student Evangelos Sfakianakis and Jorinde van de Vis, both of Leiden University in the Netherlands.

“In sync with itself”

The theory of cosmic inflation, first proposed in the 1980s by MIT’s Alan Guth, the V.F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics, predicts that the universe began as an extremely small speck of matter, possibly about a hundred-billionth the size of a proton. This speck was filled with ultra-high-energy matter, so energetic that the pressures within generated a repulsive gravitational force — the driving force behind inflation. Like a spark to a fuse, this gravitational force exploded the infant universe outward, at an ever-faster rate, inflating it to nearly an octillion times its original size (that’s the number 1 followed by 26 zeroes), in less than a trillionth of a second.

Kaiser and his colleagues attempted to work out what the earliest phases of reheating — that bridge interval at the end of cosmic inflation and just before the Big Bang — might have looked like.

“The earliest phases of reheating should be marked by resonances. One form of high-energy matter dominates, and it’s shaking back and forth in sync with itself across large expanses of space, leading to explosive production of new particles,” Kaiser says. “That behavior won’t last forever, and once it starts transferring energy to a second form of matter, its own swings will get more choppy and uneven across space. We wanted to measure how long it would take for that resonant effect to break up, and for the produced particles to scatter off each other and come to some sort of thermal equilibrium, reminiscent of Big Bang conditions.”

The team’s computer simulations represent a large lattice onto which they mapped multiple forms of matter and tracked how their energy and distribution changed in space and over time as the scientists varied certain conditions. The simulation’s initial conditions were based on a particular inflationary model — a set of predictions for how the early universe’s distribution of matter may have behaved during cosmic inflation.

The scientists chose this particular model of inflation over others because its predictions closely match high-precision measurements of the cosmic microwave background — a remnant glow of radiation emitted just 380,000 years after the Big Bang, which is thought to contain traces of the inflationary period.

A universal tweak

The simulation tracked the behavior of two types of matter that may have been dominant during inflation, very similar to a type of particle, the Higgs boson, that was recently observed in other experiments.

Before running their simulations, the team added a slight “tweak” to the model’s description of gravity. While ordinary matter that we see today responds to gravity just as Einstein predicted in his theory of general relativity, matter at much higher energies, such as what’s thought to have existed during cosmic inflation, should behave slightly differently, interacting with gravity in ways that are modified by quantum mechanics, or interactions at the atomic scale.

In Einstein’s theory of general relativity, the strength of gravity is represented as a constant, with what physicists refer to as a minimal coupling, meaning that, no matter the energy of a particular particle, it will respond to gravitational effects with a strength set by a universal constant.

However, at the very high energies that are predicted in cosmic inflation, matter interacts with gravity in a slightly more complicated way. Quantum-mechanical effects predict that the strength of gravity can vary in space and time when interacting with ultra-high-energy matter — a phenomenon known as nonminimal coupling.

Kaiser and his colleagues incorporated a nonminimal coupling term to their inflationary model and observed how the distribution of matter and energy changed as they turned this quantum effect up or down.

In the end they found that the stronger the quantum-modified gravitational effect was in affecting matter, the faster the universe transitioned from the cold, homogeneous matter in inflation to the much hotter, diverse forms of matter that are characteristic of the Big Bang.

By tuning this quantum effect, they could make this crucial transition take place over 2 to 3 “e-folds,” referring to the amount of time it takes for the universe to (roughly) triple in size. In this case, they managed to simulate the reheating phase within the time it takes for the universe to triple in size two to three times. By comparison, inflation itself took place over about 60 e-folds.

“Reheating was an insane time, when everything went haywire,” Kaiser says. “We show that matter was interacting so strongly at that time that it could relax correspondingly quickly as well, beautifully setting the stage for the Big Bang. We didn’t know that to be the case, but that’s what’s emerging from these simulations, all with known physics. That’s what’s exciting for us.”

This research was supported, in part, by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.