Back in July, physicists from CERN announced an incredible find -- after years of searching, evidence for the Higgs Boson particle (or at the least, a higgs-like particle) had been un-Earth through the tedious process of pouring through data collected from millions of particle accelerator collisions. Each was performed by the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.
As most of you remember, a big spectacle was made by the media, as the higgs boson particle is kind of a big deal (that's an understatement). Not only is the elusive particle partly responsible for supplying certain elementary particles with mass (with a lot of help from the pervasive Higgs field), which compromises us and all of our physical reality, it also provided one of the last puzzle pieces of the standard model of particle physics (something that is hailed as one of the most concise models that explains the properties witnessed in our universe on a micro-scale). However, questions remain, which include deciphering the true mass of the particle noted at the Large Hadron Collider (the Higgs should weigh a predictable amount). Ultimately, the mass at which the Higgs weighs in is important because it plays an instrumental role in the ultimate fate of our universe, be it the big bounce, the big freeze, the big rip, or the big slurp.
Since the announcement, the world of particle physics has been thrown through a loop, as finding this particle would have severe implications for other aspects of quantum mechanics (namely supersymmetry, but that's another lesson all together). One of the newest reports released suggests something sinister... if the higgs boson truly exists at the appropriate mass, our universe may be in some serious trouble. At least it is according to a theoretical physicist from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, who claims: "If you use all the physics that we know now and you do what you think is a straightforward calculation, it's bad news."
So what is he talking about? Well, imparting that much mass with the Higgs Boson and the additional mass of top quark particles, suggest that the vacuum of our universe may be inherently unstable, existing in a perpetual 'metastable' state, which we have discussed before (as usual, the link can be found in the "Further Reading" section below). Many physicists have been discussing the possibility of our universe teetering on the edge of stability for many years now. Especially physicists Michael Turner and Frank Wilczek, who published a paper in Nature back in 1982 that suggested this unpleasant scenario; "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."
According to (Lykken) calculations (which hinge on the mass of the Higgs being correct, or off by a small margin of one percent), many tens of billions of years from now, the universe would experience some catastrophic event as a "bubble" formed from quantum fluctuationss, from some sort of an alternate universe with a lower-energy state might appear in ours, expanding and ultimately destroying us. At the speed of light, to boot, he said. Even more interestingly, this calculations brought up a question more philosophical than anything else, bringing him to ultimately wonder if the state of our universe is instrumental in producing stars, galaxies, planets, matter and ultimately, life.
As mentioned, many questions linger about the nature of the higgs-like particle discovered at CERN, an official confirmation on their findings won't be released for a while now until they can be sure. Well, as sure as they can be given the nature of physics, that is. There is still much data left to pour through, in addition to the Large Hadron Collider being out of commission for the next two years for equipment upgrading. Regardless, many theoretical physicists think the Higgs might not be the end of the line for us. It's a big universe and we haven't even begun to unweave the tablets left out for us to discern the how, not the why, the universe exists as it is.
"Cosmos may be 'inherently unstable:"
"Will our universe end in a 'big slurp'? Higgs-like particle suggests it might:"
For Further Reading:
"The Standard Model in Layman Terms:"
"The Large Hadron Collider Shuts Down:"
"A Hiccup in the Search for the Higgs:"
"Could Oberving Dark Energy Kill the Universe?"
Image via: cosmiclog.nbcnews.com
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