Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gravitational potential wells (final)

In the last post, I compared the early universe to a mattress with a number of bowling balls on it, creating divots for matter to fall in and out of. I have to admit that it isn't the best analogy; the behavior I'm trying to describe is relatively universal, however. Imagine a really great vacation spot - initially, people will be attracted to this spot. As more and more people visit it, the pressure of all those people mean that it's no longer an attractive location and they stop coming. Also not a good analogy.

In the end, the point is that local density fluctuations created sources of oscillation. Matter was attracted to regions of high density and fell into the well, before photon pressure became too great and pushed it back out. The final piece of information we need before we can finish this particular section is that regions of high density are hotter than regions of low density. And as we already know, the temperature or energy of a photon is related to its wavelength. Therefore, a photon coming from a region of high density is "hotter" or has a higher frequency than a photon coming from a region of low density. This is how the CMB tells us about the early universe. By looking at the temperature fluctuations of the CMB, we can understand the density fluctuations in the early universe.

To once again plagiarize Wayne Hu's website, he has an expanded version of the movie in the previous post. Here, there are two potential wells with a hill in the middle. When the balls are at the bottom of the well, the temperature is hotter and photons departing at that time are correspondingly hotter. When the balls are not in the well, things are colder and the photons reflect it accordingly (I believe in this movie, hotter is represented by blue and colder by red, since blue light has more energy than red light). By detecting these photons we now know about how uniform the early universe was and we can make conclusions about the distribution of matter and energy. In the next post, I'll start talking about how we decode these photons using Fourier analysis.

No comments:

Post a Comment