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Early vs late string networks from a minimal QCD Axion

Marco GorghettoEdward HardyHoria NicolaescuAlessio NotariMichele Redi
Nov 2023
We propose a new regime of minimal QCD axion dark matter that lies between the pre- and post-inflationary scenarios, such that the Peccei-Quinn (PQ) symmetry is restored only on sufficiently large spatial scales. This leads to a novel cosmological evolution, in which strings and domain walls re-enter the horizon and annihilate later than in the ordinary post-inflationary regime, possibly even after the QCD crossover. Such dynamics can occur if the PQ symmetry is restored by inflationary fluctuations, i.e. the Hubble parameter during inflation $H_I$ is larger than the PQ breaking scale $f_a$, but it is not thermally restored afterwards. Solving the Fokker-Planck equation, we estimate the number of inflationary e-folds required for the PQ symmetry to be, on average, restored. Moreover, we show that, in the large parts of parameter space where the radial mode is displaced from the minimum by de Sitter fluctuations, a string network forms due to the radial mode oscillating over the top of its potential after inflation. In both cases we identify order one ranges in $H_I/f_a$ and in the quartic coupling $\lambda$ of the PQ potential that lead to the late-string dynamics. In this regime the cosmological dark matter abundance can be reproduced for axion decay constants as low as the astrophysical constraint $O(10^8)$ GeV, corresponding to axion masses up to $10^{-2}~{\rm eV}$, and with miniclusters with masses as large as $O(10)M_\odot$.
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