One of the biggest cosmological mysteries is why the universe is made of so much more matter than antimatter, essentially why we exist. Now a team of theoretical physicists say they know how to find the answer. All they need to do is detect the gravitational waves produced by strange quantum objects called Q balls.
Every type of ordinary matter particle has an antimatter partner with opposite characteristics, and when matter interacts with antimatter, the two annihilate each other. That fact makes our existence a mystery, since cosmologists are pretty sure that equal amounts of matter and antimatter were produced at the dawn of the universe; Those companions of matter and antimatter should have annihilated each other, leaving the universe devoid of any matter. Yet matter exists, and researchers are slowly discovering why.
One possible reason may lie in the Q-balls, theoretical “lumps” that formed in the moments after the Big Bang, before the universe rapidly inflated like a balloon. These objects would contain their own matter-antimatter asymmetry, which means that within each Q-ball there would be unequal portions of matter and antimatter. When these Q balls “exploded” they would have released more matter than antimatter and unleashed gravitational waves in space-time. If these objects really existed, we could detect them using gravitational waves, according to a new paper published Oct. 27 in the journal Physical Review Letters.
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According to particle physics, the fabric of the universe is covered by different quantum fields, each of which describes some property (such as electromagnetism) at all points in space. Fluctuations in these fields give rise to the fundamental particles that make up our physical reality. To illustrate how these fields work, imagine a trampoline with a bowling ball in the center. The shape that the bowling ball gives the trampoline represents how much energy any point on the field is contributing to the universe: the closer to the central depression, the greater the potential energy. Just as the shape of the trampoline’s surface governs how a marble would roll around the bowling ball, the “shape” of a field governs the behavior of the field.
One theory, proposed in 1985 by Princeton University physicists Ian Affleck and Michael Dine, seeks to explain the matter-antimatter asymmetry of the universe by saying that the fields that governed that early balloon-shaped inflation of the universe had to be quite shallow to For that inflation to occur, in other words, the bowling ball in the center of the springboard was not very heavy. And in the same way that a marble rolling around a bowling ball’s shallow depression does not gain or lose much speed, the shape of the field meant that the energy that governs the inflation of the universe remained uniform.
Because inflation requires this uniformity, the field cannot interact too much with any other field (essentially other springboards) to create particles. But according to Affleck and Dine’s theory, this field interacted with others in a way that created more matter particles than antimatter particles. To maintain that uniform shape, the field contained these particles in “clumps”.
“These lumps are called Q-balls. They’re just field lumps,” said lead author Graham White, a physicist at the Kavli Institute for Universe Physics and Mathematics.
As the universe expanded, these Q balls hung around. “And eventually they become the most important part of the universe in terms of how much energy is in them compared to the rest of the universe.”
But they don’t last forever. When the Q balls disappear, sprinkling the universe with more matter than antimatter, they do so so suddenly that they produce sound waves. Those sound waves act as a source of waves in space-time known as gravitational waves, the new study proposed. If those gravitational waves exist, they can be measured here on Earth with detectors like NASA’s Laser Space Interferometer (LISA) and the underground Einstein Telescope, White’s team argues.
This is not the only theory that explains the matter-antimatter asymmetry of the universe. But White said that’s okay, as we’re at an exciting point where if one of these paradigms is correct, we can probably test it. “[There are] a bunch of machines that we’re going to turn on in the 2030s that hopefully can see these gravitational waves, “White said.” If we see them, that’s really exciting. ”But even if detectors fail to find these Q-ball waves, that’s also good news because it means the simplest theories are probably correct, and those are easier to test, he said. “So somehow it doesn’t get lost.”
Originally posted on Live Science.
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