While previous experimental and theoretical studies give clues to spatial variations in the primordial universe, they lack the key element of time. Without a ticking clock to measure the passage of time, the evolutionary history of the primordial universe can’t be determined unambiguously.
“Imagine you took the frames of a movie and stacked them all randomly on top of each other. If those frames aren’t labeled with a time, you can’t put them in order. Did the primordial universe crunch or bang? If you don’t know whether the movie is running forward or in reverse, you can’t tell the difference,” explains Chen.
This new research suggests that such “clocks” exist, and can be used to measure the passage of time at the universe’s birth. These clocks take the form of heavy particles, which are an expected product of the “theory of everything” that will unite quantum mechanics and general relativity. They are named the “primordial standard clocks.”
Subatomic heavy particles will behave like a pendulum, oscillating back and forth in a universal and standard way. They can even do so quantum-mechanically without being pushed initially. Those oscillations or quantum wiggles would act as clock ticks, and add time labels to the stack of movie frames in our analogy. More.
Note: It’s not strictly true that one could not reconstruct a narrative movie from jumbled frames. As Aristotle pointed out 3500 years ago and counting, every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. So if the film proposed to tell a story, had different characters, or could be grouped by place and events, one might go a fair way toward constructing what the story must be, roughly. Interesting clock idea, though.
See also: Can physics tell us if time had a beginning?
Rob Sheldon on whether we have the Bg Bang theory all wrong
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Here’s the abstract:
In this paper, we point out and study a generic type of signals existing in the primordial universe models, which can be used to model-independently distinguish the inflation scenario from alternatives. These signals are generated by massive fields that function as standard clocks. The role of massive fields as standard clocks has been realized in previous works. Although the existence of such massive fields is generic, the previous realizations require sharp features to classically excite the oscillations of the massive clock fields. Here, we point out that the quantum fluctuations of massive fields can actually serve the same purpose as the standard clocks. We show that they are also able to directly record the defining property of the scenario type, namely, the scale factor of the primordial universe as a function of time a(t), but through shape-dependent oscillatory features in non-Gaussianities. Since quantum fluctuating massive fields exist in any realistic primordial universe models, these quantum primordial standard clock signals are present in any inflation models, and should exist quite generally in alternative-to-inflation scenarios as well. However, the amplitude of such signals is very model-dependent. (Public access) – Xingang Chen, Mohammad Hossein Namjoo, Yi Wang. Quantum Primordial Standard Clocks. Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, 2016