The inflaton field is a hypothetical scalar field that is theorized to drive cosmic inflation in the very early universe. The field, originally theorized by Alan Guth, 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 a universe consistent with observed spatial isotropy and homogeneity.
- Expanding vacuum state with high potential energy
- Phase transition to true vacuum
- Slow roll and reheating
Expanding vacuum state with high potential energy
In quantum field theory, a vacuum state or vacuum is a state of quantum fields which is at locally minimal potential energy. Quantum particles are excitations which deviate from a minimal potential energy state, therefore a vacuum state has no particles in it. Depending on the specifics of the theory, a QFT can have more than one vacuum state. Different vacua, despite all "being empty" (having no particles), will generally have different vacuum energy. Quantum field theory stipulates that the pressure of the vacuum energy is always negative and equal in magnitude to its energy density.
Inflationary theory postulates that there is a vacuum state with very large vacuum energy, caused by a non-zero vacuum expectation value of the inflaton field. Any region of space in this state will rapidly expand. Even if initially it is not empty (contains some particles), very rapid exponential expansion dilutes particle density to zero.
Phase transition to true vacuum
Inflationary theory further postulates that this "inflationary" vacuum state is not the state with globally lowest energy – it's a false vacuum. This is also known as a metastable state. For each observer in any chosen point of space, false vacuum eventually tunnels into a state with the same potential energy, but which isn't a vacuum (it is not at a local minimum of the potential energy, it "can decay"). This state can be seen as a true vacuum, filled with a large number of inflaton particles. However, rate of expansion of the true vacuum does not change at this moment – only its exponential character changes to much slower expansion of FLRW metric. This ensures that expansion rate precisely matches the energy density.
Slow roll and reheating
In true vacuum, inflaton particles decay, eventually giving rise to the observed Standard Model particles. The shape of the potential energy function near "tunnel exit" from false vacuum state must have a shallow slope, otherwise particle production will be confined to the boundary of expanding true vacuum bubble, which contradicts observation (our Universe is not built of huge completely void bubbles). In other words, the quantum state should "roll to the bottom slowly".
When complete, the decay of inflaton particles fills the space with hot and dense Big Bang plasma.
Just like every other quantum field, excitations of the inflaton field are expected to be quantized. The field quanta of the inflaton field are known as inflatons. Depending on the modeled potential energy density, the inflaton field's ground state may or may not be zero.
The term inflaton follows the typical naming style[clarification needed] of other quantum particles (such as photon, gluon, boson and fermion), deriving from the word inflation. The term was first used in a paper entitled ‘After Primordial Inflation’ by, D.V. Nanopoulos, K.A. Olive and M. Srednicki.
The nature of the inflaton field is currently not known. One of the obstacles for narrowing its properties down is the inability of QFTs to correctly predict vacuum energy based on the particle content of a chosen theory (see vacuum catastrophe). Atkins (2012) has suggested that it is even possible that no new field is necessary, that a modified version of the Higgs field could act as an inflaton.
Non-minimally coupled inflation
Non-minimally coupled inflation is an inflationary model in which the constant which couples gravity to the inflaton field is not small. The coupling constant is usually represented by (Xi), which features in the action (constructed by modifying the Einstein–Hilbert action)::1–2
represents the strength of the interaction between and , which relate to the curvature of space and the magnitude of the inflaton field respectively.
- Guth, Alan H. (1997). The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins. Basic Books. pp. 233–234. ISBN 0201328402.
- Steinhardt, Paul J.; Turok, Neil (2007). Endless Universe: Beyond the Bang. Random House. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-7679-1501-4.
- Steinhardt, Paul J. (April 2011). "Inflation Debate: Is the theory at the heart of modern cosmology deeply flawed?" (PDF). Scientific American.
- Tsujikawa, Shinji (2003). "Introductory review of cosmic inflation". arXiv: .
- Nanopoulos D.V., Olive K.A., Srednicki M. (1983). "After primordial inflation". Physics Letters B. 127: 30–34. Bibcode:1983PhLB..127...30N. doi:10.1016/0370-2693(83)91624-6.
- Atkins, Michael (March 2012). "Could the Higgs Boson Be the Inflaton?" (PDF).
- Hertzberg, Mark P (2010). "On Inflation with Non-minimal Coupling". Journal of High Energy Physics. 2010 (11). arXiv: . Bibcode:2010JHEP...11..023H. doi:10.1007/JHEP11(2010)023.