Christian Döring, Salvador Centelles Chuliá, Manfred Lindner, Bjoern Malte Schaefer, Matthias Bartelmann
SciPost Phys. 12, 114 (2022) ·
published 31 March 2022

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We study the impact of gravitational waves originating from a first order phase transition on structure formation. To do so, we perform a second order perturbation analysis in the $1+3$ covariant framework and derive a wave equation in which second order, adiabatic density perturbations of the photonbaryon fluid are sourced by the gravitational wave energy density during radiation domination and on subhorizon scales. The scale on which such waves affect the energy density perturbation spectrum is found to be proportional to the horizon size at the time of the phase transition times its inverse duration. Consequently, structure of the size of galaxies and bigger can only be affected in this way by relatively late phase transitions at $\ge 10^{6}\,\text{s}$. Using cosmic variance as a bound we derive limits on the strength $\alpha$ and the relative duration $(\beta/H_*)^{1}$ of phase transitions as functions of the time of their occurrence which results in a new exclusion region for the energy density in gravitational waves today. We find that the cosmic variance bound forbids only relative long lasting phase transitions, e.g. $\beta/H_*\lesssim 6.8$ for $t_*\approx 5\times10^{11}\,\text{s}$, which exhibit a substantial amount of supercooling $\alpha>20$ to affect the matter power spectrum.