Astrophysics

Textures in the Sky?

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Science  06 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6090, pp. 14-15
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6090.14-d
CREDIT: NASA/WMAP SCIENCE TEAM

Theories of high-energy physics predict that topological defects formed in the early universe as a result of symmetry-breaking phase transitions. As the universe cooled and expanded, it underwent phase changes in which the different forces decoupled and the symmetries between elementary particles broke. These transitions did not happen in the same way everywhere in the universe, and as misalignments in the arrangement of atoms lead to defects in crystals, misalignments in symmetry breaking led to cosmic defects. Textures are one of the types of defects predicted by theory and should generate characteristic hot and cold spots in the oldest image we have of the universe—the cosmic microwave background, emitted when the first atoms formed 13.7 billion years ago. To test these predictions, Feeney et al. used state-of-the-art Bayesian methods to analyze full-sky microwave background data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. They show that these data are consistent with the absence of cosmic textures and rule out any theories that predict more than six detectable textures on the full sky. Data from the Planck satellite may soon provide better constraints. If detected, these features would probe physics at energies much higher than those that can be reached at the Large Hadron Collider.

Phys. Rev. Lett. 108, 241301 (2012).

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