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The Big Bang: Do Scientists Have It All Wrong?

Apr 18, 2013 11:56 AM EDT
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A controversial new analysis of the Universe's "baby picture" released late March by the European Space Agnecy's Planck mission argues the validity of the not only prevailing theories of the expansion of the Universe, but of the Big Bang itself.

While cosmologists are not sure what first caused inflation, most believe the current state of the Universe is the result of interactions of a number of fields, including the Higgs field and an "inflation" field that, in theory, causes inflation when its energy dominates that of other fields.

However, researchers led by Princeton astrophyscisit Paul Steinhardt noted that the list of possible inflation fields determined by Planck scientists are less likely to occur naturally than others they ruled out, according to Nature.com.

Furthermore, Steinhardt and his team point to new research emerging from scientists at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) showing that the Higgs field likely started in a high-energy state, rather than in a stable, low-energy one.

Steinhardt argues that the odds of the Higgs field starting in such a precarious, metastable state are similar to that of dropping a person out of the sky over the Matterhorn only to find he or she landed in a "dimple near the top." Furthermore, he argues that as soon as inflation started, the resulting quantum fluctuations would have quickly led the HIggs field to fall to an extremely low-energy state.

And while such a theory doesn't necessarily contradict all inflation theories, it does stand in the face of the popular "plateau models," called such because the of belief that they level off at relatively low energies.

Should plateau inflation have truly taken place the way Planck scientists and other are currently proposing, Steinhardt says the inflation would have ended too soon and the Universe would have been more likely to end up as a black hole than what it is today.

And while the Princeton scientist admits that all it takes is the discovery of one new, exotic particle from the LHC to undo his theory, given what scientists do know, he argues "if you just follow your nose, then inflation and the whole Big Bang paradigm seem to be in big trouble."

However, while Steinhardt's concerns were discussed at a meeting held at the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, as Nature.com reports they were also largely dismissed.

"The authors claim that the surviving models are, in their words, 'unlikely' - which is an ill-defined concept," said Eva Silverstein, a theoretical physicist at Stanford University in California. And while she admits there is still more to learn about the initial events that led up to inflation, she believes "the big pictures is that the Planck results are in striking agreement with the inflationary paradigm."

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