Smooth vs instant inflationary transitions: steepest growth re-examined and primordial black holes

Philippa S. Cole, Andrew David Gow, Christian T. Byrnes, Subodh P. Patil

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Primordial black holes (PBHs) can be produced by a range of mechanisms in the early universe. A particular formation channel that connects PBHs with inflationary phenomenology invokes enhanced primordial curvature perturbations at small scales. In this paper, we examine how rapidly the background can transition between different values of the parameters of the Hubble hierarchy in the context of single-clock inflation, which must ultimately derive from a consistent derivative expansion for the background inflaton field. We discuss artefacts associated with instant or very rapid transitions, and consider the impact on the steepest power spectrum growth and the formation of PBHs. In particular, we highlight the robustness of the k^4 steepest growth previously found for single-field inflation with conservatively smoothed transitions and limits on how much the amplitude of the power spectrum can grow, and demonstrate that the PBH mass distribution is sensitive to the artefacts, which go away when the transitions are smoothed. We also show that the mass distribution is relatively insensitive to the steepness of the growth and subsequent decay of the power spectrum, depending primarily on the peak amplitude and the presence of any plateaus that last more than an e-fold. The shape of the power spectrum can of course be constrained by other tracers, and so understanding the physical limitations on its shape remains a pertinent question.
Original languageEnglish
Article number022
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics
Issue number05
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2024


  • Primordial black holes
  • Physics of the early universe
  • Cosmological perturbation theory
  • UKRI
  • STFC
  • ST/S000550/1
  • ST/W001225/1
  • ST/T000473/1
  • TC_highlight

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