Washington: Scientists at Penn State University including an Indian origin have developed a new paradigm for understanding the earliest eras in the history of the universe.
Using techniques from an area of modern physics called loop quantum cosmology, developed at Penn State, the scientists now have extended analyzes that include quantum physics farther back in time than ever before -- all the way to the beginning.
The new paradigm of loop quantum origins shows, for the first time, that the large-scale structures we now see in the universe evolved from fundamental fluctuations in the essential quantum nature of “space-time,” which existed even at the very beginning of the universe over 14 billion years ago.
The achievement also provides new opportunities for testing competing theories of modern cosmology against breakthrough observations expected from next-generation telescopes.
“We humans always have yearned to understand more about the origin and evolution of our universe. So it is an exciting time in our group right now, as we begin using our new paradigm to understand, in more detail, the dynamics that matter and geometry experienced during the earliest eras of the universe, including at the very beginning,” said Abhay Ashtekar, the senior author of the paper.
The new paradigm provides a conceptual and mathematical framework for describing the exotic “quantum-mechanical geometry of space-time” in the very early universe. The paradigm shows that, during this early era, the universe was compressed to such unimaginable densities that its behavior was ruled not by the classical physics of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, but by an even more fundamental theory that also incorporates the strange dynamics of quantum mechanics.
The density of matter was huge then -- 10 to the 94 grams (10^94) per cubic centimeter, as compared with the density of an atomic nucleus today, which is only 10 to the 14 grams (10^14).
In this bizarre quantum-mechanical environment -- where one can speak only of probabilities of events rather than certainties -- physical properties naturally would be vastly different from the way we experience them today. Among these differences, Ashtekar said, are the concept of “time,” as well as the changing dynamics of various systems over time as they experience the fabric of quantum geometry itself.
No space observatories have been able to detect anything as long ago and far away as the very early eras of the universe described by the new paradigm. But a few observatories have come close. Cosmic background radiation has been detected in an era when the universe was only 380-thousand years old.
By that time, after a period of rapid expansion called “inflation,” the universe had burst out into a much-diluted version of its earlier super-compressed self. At the beginning of inflation, the density of the universe was a trillion times less than during its infancy, so quantum factors now are much less important in ruling the large-scale dynamics of matter and geometry.
Observations of the cosmic background radiation show that the universe had a predominantly uniform consistency after inflation, except for a light sprinkling of some regions that were denser and others that were less dense.
The research will be published on 11 December 2012 as an “Editor’s Suggestion” paper in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.