Astrophysical tests of modified gravity

Sakstein, Jeremy Aaron (2014-10-07)


Einstein's theory of general relativity has been the accepted theory of gravity for nearly a century but how well have we really tested it? The laws of gravity have been probed in our solar system to extremely high precision using several different tests and general relativity has passed each one with flying colours. Despite this, there are still some mysteries it cannot account for, one of which being the recently discovered acceleration of the universe and this has prompted a theoretical study of modified theories of gravity that can self-accelerate on large scales. Indeed, the next decade will be an exciting era where several satellites will probe the structure of gravity on cosmological scales and put these theoretical predictions to the test. Despite this, one must still worry about the behaviour of gravity on smaller scales and the vast majority of these theories are rendered cosmologically uninteresting when confronted with solar system tests of gravity. This has motivated the study of theories that differ from general relativity on large scales but include screening mechanisms which act to hide any modifications in our own solar system. This then presents the problem of being able to distinguish these theories from general relativity. In the last few years, astrophysical scales have emerged as a new and novel way of probing these theories. These scales encompass the mildly non-linear regime between galactic and cosmological scales where the astrophysical objects have not yet joined the Hubble flow. For this reason, the screening mechanism is active but not overly efficient and novel effects may be present. Furthermore, these tests do not require a large sample of galaxies and hence do not require dedicated surveys; instead they can piggyback on other experiments. This thesis explores a class of theories of screened modified gravity which are scalar-tensor theories where the field is conformally coupled to matter via the metric and includes chameleon and symmetron models as well as those that screen using the environment-dependent Damour-Polyakov effect. The thesis is split into two parts. The first is aimed at searching for new and novel astrophysical probes and using them to place new constraints on the model parameters. In particular, we derive the equations governing hydrodynamics in the presence of an external gravitational field that includes the modifications of general relativity. Using this, we derive the equations governing the equilibrium structure of stars and show that unscreened stars are brighter and hotter than their screened counterparts owing to the larger nuclear burning rate in the core needed to combat the additional inward force. These theories have the property that the laws of gravity are different in unscreened galaxies from our own. This means that the inferred distance to an unscreened galaxy using a stellar effect that depends on the law gravity will not agree with a measurement using a different method that is insensitive gravitational physics. We exploit this property by comparing the distances inferred using pulsating Cepheid variable stars, tip of the red giant branch stars and water masers to place new constraints on the model parameters that are three orders of magnitude stronger than those previously reported. Finally, we perturb the equations of modified gravity hydrodynamics to first order and derive the equations governing the oscillations of stars about their equilibrium structure. By solving these equations we show that unscreened stars are more stable to small perturbations than screened stars. Furthermore, we find that the oscillation period is far shorter than was previously estimated and this means that the current constraints can potentially be improved using previous data-sets. We discuss these new results in light of current and future astrophysical tests of modified gravity. The final part of this thesis is dedicated to the search for supersymmetric completions of modified theories of gravity. There have been recent investigations into the quantum stability of these models and there is evidence that they may suffer from quantum instabilities. Supersymmetric theories enjoy powerful non-renormalisation theories that may help to avoid these issues. For this reason, we construct a framework for embedding these models into global supersymmetry and investigate the new features this introduces. We show how supersymmetry is broken at a scale set by the ambient density and that, with the exception of no-scale models, supergravity corrections already constrain the model parameters to levels where it is not possible to probe the theories with astrophysics or laboratory experiments. Next, we construct a class of supersymmetric chameleon models and investigate their cosmology. In particular, we find that they are indistinguishable from the LCDM model at the background level but that they may show deviations in the cold dark matter power spectrum that can be probed using upcoming experiments. Finally, we introduce a novel mechanism where a cosmological constant in the form of a Fayet-Illiopoulos term can appear at late times and investigate the constraints this imposes on the model parameter space.