Theoretical priors in scalar-tensor cosmologies: shift-symmetric Horndeski models

Dina Traykova, Emilio Bellini, Pedro G. Ferreira, Carlos García-García, Johannes Noller, Miguel Zumalacárregui

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Attempts at constraining theories of late time accelerated expansion often assume broad priors for the parameters in their phenomenological description. Focusing on shift-symmetric scalar-tensor theories with standard gravitational wave speed, we show how a more careful analysis of their dynamical evolution leads to much narrower priors. In doing so, we propose a simple and accurate parametrisation of these theories, capturing the redshift dependence of the equation of state, $w(z)$, and the kinetic braiding parameter, $\alpha_{\rm B}(z)$, with only two parameters each, and derive their statistical distribution (a.k.a. theoretical priors) that fit the cosmology of the underlying model. We have considered two versions of the shift-symmetric model, one where the energy density of dark energy is given solely by the scalar field, and another where it also has a contribution from the cosmological constant. By including current data, we show how theoretical priors can be used to improve constraints by up to an order of magnitude. Moreover, we show that shift-symmetric theories without a cosmological constant are observationally viable. We work up to quartic order in first derivatives of the scalar in the action and our results suggest this truncation is a good approximation to more general shift-symmetric theories. This work establishes an actionable link between phenomenological parameterisations and Lagrangian-based theories, the two main approaches to test cosmological gravity and cosmic acceleration.
Original languageEnglish
Article number083502
Number of pages19
JournalPhysical Review D
Issue number8
Early online date1 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2021


  • UKRI
  • STFC
  • ST/S004572/1


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