If Higgs Boson Calculations Are Right, A Catastrophic 'Bubble' Could End Universe

NPR | Feb. 19, 2013 4 p.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 5:24 p.m.

Contributed By:

Eyder Peralta

An undated handout graphic distributed on July 4, 2012 by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva shows a representation of traces of traces of a proton-proton collision measured in the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experience in the search for the Higgs boson.

An undated handout graphic distributed on July 4, 2012 by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva shows a representation of traces of traces of a proton-proton collision measured in the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experience in the search for the Higgs boson.

AFP/Getty Images

For a universe so old and so illustrious, the end may be boring and lighting quick: According to one Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory theoretician, if what we know about the Higgs boson subatomic particle is true, the universe may come to an end when another universe slurps us up at light speed.

“If you use all the physics that we know now and you do what you think is a straightforward calculation, it’s bad news,” Joseph Lykken said at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Monday. “It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable and at some point billions of years from now it’s all going to get wiped out. This has to do with the Higgs energy field itself.”

Here’s how he explained his theory to NBC News’ Cosmic Log:

“He said the parameters for our universe, including the Higgs mass value as well as the mass of another subatomic particle known as the top quark, suggest that we’re just at the edge of stability, in a ‘metastable’ state. Physicists have been contemplating such a possibility for more than 30 years. Back in 1982, physicists Michael Turner and Frank Wilczek wrote in Nature that “without warning, a bubble of true vacuum could nucleate somewhere in the universe and move outwards at the speed of light, and before we realized what swept by us our protons would decay away.”

“Lykken put it slightly differently: ‘The universe wants to be in a different state, so eventually to realize that, a little bubble of what you might think of as an alternate universe will appear somewhere, and it will spread out and destroy us.’”

According to Discovery News, Lykken said if this happens, it’ll happen at light speed, which means if anyone is around to witness it — our solar system will be long gone — they’ll be gone before they realize it.

Now, all of these calculations use what we know about a subatomic particle discovered by CERN back in July, which scientists said bears the hallmarks of the Higgs boson. As we’ve explained before, scientists believe the Higgs is the thing that gives other subatomic particles their mass.

We won’t know more about the Higgs for a while. The New Scientist reports that Large Hadron Collider, where the Higgs-like particle was discovered, has gone into a two-year hiatus.

Scientists will make tweaks to the atom-smashing machine and it will reach peak energy in 2015.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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