Some people live in the past, some in the present, and some are obsessed with the future--but is anyone concerned with the future tens of billions of years from now?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Scientists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston, led by theoretical physicist Joseph Lyyken from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, presented research suggesting that contrary to popular belief, the universe will not exist forever.
The research has to do with the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle that is believed to give mass to matter. According to the new research, the Higgs boson’s precise mass--which has yet to be calculated--could be proof of an end-date to our universe by revealing its instability.
“Many tens of billions of years from now, there’ll be a catastrophe. A little bubble of what you might think of as an ‘alternative’ universe will appear somewhere and then it will expand out and destroy us,” explained Lyyken.
Of course, this theory is still just that--a theory. Lyyken does not, however, seem too optimistic.
“If you use all the physics that we know now and you do what you think is a straightforward calculation, it’s bad news,” he said.
The way this will work is through a phenomenon known as vacuum instability, which is a quantum fluctuation that would create a comparatively smaller universe than our own, which would then expand at the speed of light, eliminating our own universe completely and replacing it.
In order to figure out whether this theory is in fact the reality, scientists have to conduct further research, but Chris Hill, a professor at Ohio State University who is also invested in this research, says they are very close.
“Before we knew, the Higgs could have been any mass over a very wide range. And what’s amazing to me is that of all those possible masses from 114 to several hundred GeV, it’s landed at 126-ish where it’s right on the critical line and now we have to measure it more precisely to find the fate of our universe.”
The strange finding is that the difference is so strikingly small.
"You change any of these parameters to the Standard Model (of particle physics) by a tiny bit and you get a different end of the universe," Lyyken said.
Previously, research around the Higgs boson was focused on figuring out how the universe began, but now scientists are realizing that an equally important puzzle this particle could solve will be how our universe will end.
Despite the answer being tantalizingly close, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which discovered the particle in the first place, is currently shut down for maintenance and repairs, and won’t be in use again until 2015.
Edited by Brooke Neuman