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# Anatomy of a Paper: Part I, Inspiration

## By Sean Carroll | July 30, 2007 11:43 am

density fluctuations are at any given length scale. From this there is a well-understood procedure to predict temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, which are the most directly observable consequences of the primordial density fluctuations. So, the phenomenological approach is to forget about particular models of inflation, and simply ask what kind of impact a preferred direction could possibly have on the power spectrum (and thus the CMB). In principle, the answer is all sorts of impacts. The perturbations are generally described in terms of an amplitude defined at each length scale and each direction on the sky. (More technically, we express the power spectrum in Fourier space as a function of the wavevector.) In the usual description, every direction is deep down the same as every other, so really the power spectrum is just a function of the length scale. Even better, to a good approximation inflation predicts that the amplitude of the fluctuations should be scale invariant a constant value, the same at every length. So really the complete power spectrum is specified by just one number! Thats the amplitude of the primordial density fluctuations. Having only one parameter makes your theory extremely predictive, which is why we can squeeze so much information out of the data we get from WMAP, for example. (Of course, we immediately start adding new parameters, but thats another story.) But now that we have a preferred direction, we can imagine that the perturbation amplitude really does depend on the direction we look in on the sky. (The fluctuations might be a bit stronger [or weaker] if we happen to be looking exactly along the direction that was picked out as special during inflation, in other words.) Furthermore, in principle it could have a different impact at every different length scale! So, not very predictive. On the other hand, theres a good physical reason why the perturbations from ordinary inflation are scale-invariant; the process of inflation itself is basically the same during most of its duration. While inflation is going on, the universe is expanding at an approximately constant rate, and stretching tiny quantum fluctuations into large-scale density perturbations. Because the process of inflation is uniform, the amplitude of the resulting perturbations is (basically) uniform. Therefore, we should (even in the absence of any particular model) be able to apply similar reasoning once we stick in a preferred direction. Our idea was that there would be some violation of rotational invariance either inflation would happen slightly more rapidly along some particular direction, or the decay of the inflaton field into ordinary matter and radiation would be more efficient along some direction, or whatever but it would have a constant magnitude while inflation was happening. So we should expect the new effect (which we were imagining to be small, given that its certainly not bloody obvious in the existing CMB observations) would also be scale-invariant! That makes life much simpler. Were now suggesting that, instead of the primordial perturbations just having a single amplitude that is independent of both direction and length scale, there is a tiny extra modulation of the amplitude that depends on one new pure number (to specify how big the effect is) and one direction on the sky (corresponding to the preferred direction). In other words, three new parameters: one magnitude of the effect, and one position on the sky (specified by right ascension and declination, for example).

In the exciting cliffhanger that was Part One, we saw how the idea behind a paper came to be nurtured from a meandering speculation into a somewhat well-defined calculational question. In particular, Lotty Ackerman and Mark Wise and I were asking what would happen if there were a preferred direction during inflation an axis in the sky along which primordial perturbations were just a little bit different than in the perpendicular plane. We guessed, even in the absence of a specific model, that such a statistical anisotropy would show up as a nearly scale-invariant modulation of the power spectrum. Now we need to turn such ideas into something more concrete. In fact, our phenomenological guess was enough to go and start calculating how this new effect will show up on the CMB, and we all set about doing exactly that. None of us Mark, Lotty, and I are really experts at this sort of thing, but thats why they make books and review articles. (Without Scott Dodelsons book, I would have been in trouble.) As it turns out, many years ago Mark had written one of the very first papers on deriving CMB anisotropies from inflationary perturbations, so he had a head start on calculating things. But the analysis that he and Larry Abbott had done way back when had concentrated on the gravitational redshift/blueshift of the CMB (the SachsWolfe effect), which is only the most important contribution on large angular scales. Lotty and I realized that we should be able to calculate the effect at every scale all at once, which turned out to be right. Its true that messy astrophysical effects (acoustic oscillations) become important at medium and small scales, and it would take a real cosmologist to understand them. But all we were doing was changing the initial amplitude of the perturbations, in a direction-dependent way. The eventual effect is simply a product of the initial amplitude and a transfer function that encodes the messy fluid dynamics once and for all; since our new primordial power spectrum left the transfer function unaffected, we didnt have to worry about it. (More generally, Lotty and I were full contributors when it came to ideas, but Mark is very fast when it comes to calculations. We would have to occasionally distract him with something shiny while we sat down to catch up with the equations.)

So we read up on calculating CMB anisotropies, and applied it to our model. Since everyone usually assumes that all directions are created equal, we couldnt simply plug and chug; we had to re-do the usual calculations from the start, keeping the extra degree of complexity introduced by our preferred direction. That provided a good excuse to educate ourselves about some of the nitty-gritty involved in turning primordial density perturbations into a signal on the CMB sky. In particular, we had to play with spherical harmonics, which are the conventional way to encode information spread over a sphere for example, the temperature of the microwave background as a function of position on the sky. Every good physicist knows the basic properties of spherical harmonics, but we had to do some particular integrals that were not that common. I dont know about you, but