Researchers from the University of Copenhagen studied a substance called Quark-Gluon Plasma and revealed new insight into the very first moments of the Big Bang and our ever-expanding universe. Their findings are published in the journal Physics Letters B.
The team of researchers set their sights on Quark-Gluon Plasma (QGP) as it is the only matter that existed during the first microsecond of the Big Bang 14 billion years ago.
"Our results tell us a unique story of how the plasma evolved in the early stage of the universe," You Zhou, Associate Professor at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, explained in a press statement.
"First the plasma that consisted of quarks and gluons was separated by the hot expansion of the universe. Then the pieces of quark reformed into so-called hadrons. A hadron with three quarks makes a proton, which is part of atomic cores. These cores are the building blocks that constitute Earth, ourselves, and the universe that surrounds us,” he continued.
From Quark-Gluon Plasma to the building blocks of life
Throughout the first microsecond (0.000001 of a second) of the Big Bang, the Quark-Gluon Plasma was present, before it disappeared amid the rapid expansion of the universe.
For their study, the University of Copenhagen researchers used the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, to recreate that tiny window of time in which the whole universe was still relatively compact and concentrated.
The collider was programmed to smash ions together from the plasma at a velocity near the speed of light. This You Zhou said, allowed the team to "see how the QGP evolved from being its own matter to the cores in atoms and the building blocks of life."
Aside from their experiments with the Large Hadron Collider, the researchers also simulated the early moments of the universe using an algorithm with the capacity to analyze the collective expansion of produced particles at the great scale so far managed.
The results from the simulations show that "the QGP used to be a fluent liquid form and that it distinguishes itself from other matters by constantly changing its shape over time," You Zhou explained.
The discovery that the QGP was fluent, and had a smooth texture similar to water, goes against the long-held belief that the plasma was a form of gas.
"The new details we provide [show] that the plasma has changed its shape over time, which is quite surprising and different from any other matter we know and what we would have expected," You Zhou said.
LHC successor could unveil the Big Bang's secrets
You Zhou likened his team's new findings to a small brick in the large framework of discoveries that might eventually lead to a more comprehensive picture of the beginning of the universe.
"It has taken us about 20 years to find out that the Quark-Gluon Plasma was fluent before it changed into hadrons and the building blocks of life. Therefore our new knowledge on the ever-changing behavior of the plasma is a major breakthrough for us," You Zhou stated.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has, so far, played a massive role in building that picture of the early stages of the universe, with experiments such as the first observation of the Higgs boson with the top quark, as well as the new experiment by You Zhou and his team.
The next step for CERN, the operators of the LHC, is to build the great particle collider's successor. In 2020, the organization announced that it would build the Future Circular Collider (FCC), a circular tunnel four times the size and six times as powerful as the LHC.
The massive new project is expected to be operational by the 2040s, at which time it will be expected to provide new insight into dark matter, the big bang, and to continue to add bricks to the great framework of knowledge pertaining to our origins.