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According to inflation theory, the inflaton is a hypothetical scalar field (and its associated particle[clarification needed]) that are hypothesized to be responsible for cosmic inflation in the very early universe. The field provides a mechanism by which a period of rapid expansion from 10−35 to 10−34 seconds after the initial expansion can be generated, forming the universe.
The basic process of inflation consists of three steps:
- Prior to the expansion period, the inflaton field was at a higher-energy state.
- Random quantum fluctuations triggered a phase transition whereby the inflaton field released its potential energy as matter and radiation as it settled to its lowest-energy state.
- This action generated a repulsive force that drove the portion of the universe that is observable to us today to expand from approximately 10−50 metres in radius at 10−35 seconds to almost 1 metre in radius at 10−34 seconds.
The inflaton field's lowest energy state may or may not be a zero energy state. This depends on the chosen potential energy density of the field.
- Metric expansion of space
- Hubble's law
- Big bang
- Cosmological constant
- Inflation (cosmology)
- Non-minimally coupled inflation
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