Nuclear Processes in Other Universes: Varying the Strength of the Weak Force

Alex R. Howe, Evan Grohs, Fred C. Adams.


Motivated by the possibility that the laws of physics could be different in other regions of space-time, we consider nuclear processes in universes where the weak interaction is either stronger or weaker than observed. We focus on the physics of both big bang nucleosynthesis (BBN) and stellar evolution. For sufficiently ineffective weak interactions, neutrons do not decay during BBN, and the baryon-to-photon ratio η must be smaller in order for protons to survive without becoming incorporated into larger nuclei. For stronger weak interactions, neutrons decay before the onset of BBN, and the early Universe is left with nearly a pure hydrogen composition. We then consider stellar structure and evolution for the different nuclear compositions resulting from BBN, a wide range of weak force strengths, and the full range of stellar masses for a given universe. We delineate the range of this parameter space that supports working stars, along with a determination of the dominant nuclear reactions over the different regimes. Deuterium burning dominates the energy generation in stars when the weak force is sufficiently weak, whereas proton-proton burning into helium-3 dominates for the regime where the weak force is much stronger than in our Universe. Although stars in these universes are somewhat different, they have comparable surface temperatures, luminosities, radii, and lifetimes so that a wide range of such universes remain potentially habitable.

Associated Fellows