September 19th, 2017

Higgs Doomsday

Stephen Hawking has had a few daunting predictions in the past, but his assertion that a cosmic death bubble could wipe out the known universe may have topped the list. In the preface to his new book, he writes that it could happen at any time, with little to no warning. Essentially, Hawking and other experts believe that a change in the universe’s energy state could cause the universe to “undergo catastrophic vacuum decay.” In this process, a rapidly-expanding vacuum bubble will plow through space, destroying everything in its path. The good news? It’s not expected to take place for billions of years.

In 1964, Peter Higgs and a group of fellow physicists introduced the idea of the Higgs boson, which accompanies an invisible energy field, responsible for mass, called Higgs field. The discovery filled the gap in the Standard Model of particle physics which explains three of the four fundamental forces of the university: electromagnetic, strong, and weak forces. The fourth particle, gravity, is not part of the Standard Model. Using data collected at the CERN Large Hadron Collider, physicists were able to measure the value of the Higgs boson mass—which came out to approximately 125 gigaelectronvolts (GeV).

They suspect this mass is required to maintain the universe at a metastable state—but if this state collapses, a catastrophic event will be triggered. Hence, the "Higgs doomsday." Physicists suspect that the energy state of the Higgs field may be slowly changing over time. At the moment, it exists in a minimum potential energy state. A remarkable amount of energy would be needed to transform it into another state, but a change in energy could spark quantum tunneling—providing a shortcut to a lower energy state.

If this happened, the new vacuum state would expand through space at the speed of light.

Kemo D. 7