Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Higgs Particle And The Apparent Instability of Our Universe

Image credit: Cern -simulated data modeled for the CMS particle detector
Though it has yet to be confirmed to a degree which constitutes scientific certainty, last years discovery of what is believed to the higgs bosan- the final fundamental particle described by the standard model, and the one believed to be responsible for imparting all regular matter with mass-  has brought with it  a number of new scientific possibilities. One of them, according to physicist Joseph Lykken, while speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), is that the entire universe might exist within an unstable vacuum; one which could potentially someday reorganize itself into a more stable state. Which would be bad for anything existing in the current one. Which probably won't be much, anyway.Seriously, we're all gonna be long dead when and if any of this happens. So it's okay to think it's cool.

According to Dr Lykken, via BBC News:

"It turns out there's a calculation you can do in our Standard Model of particle physics, once you know the mass of the Higgs boson," - "If you use all the physics we know now, and you do this straightforward calculation - it's bad news." - "What happens is you get just a quantum fluctuation that makes a tiny bubble of the vacuum the Universe really wants to be in. And because it's a lower-energy state, this bubble will then expand, basically at the speed of light, and sweep everything before it,"

As best as I understand all of this. One of the debated physical properties of the universe in which we all live, is that the vacuum in which said universe exists, is not as stable as it could be. The notion that this instability is one of the physical properties of our current universe, isn't a new one. But determining weather or not this theory is true, is all based on a calculation involving the frequency of the higgs' own mass, versus that of the top quark's pole mass, amongst other things. If our current understandings of those measurements and calculations hold true, then it's possible that at some point in the distant future - as in, an incomprehensibly long time from now-  a fluctuation within the field which maintains said vacuum, could cause it to re-align itself into a more stable state. Meaning; The universe in which we currently live, will be no more. Which sounds bad. But, again, you're gonna be dead anyway. So don't worry too much about that. Besides which, the calculations described by DR. Lykken also bring with them another possibility: What if the end, is really just the beginning?

"It's much easier to explain a lot of things if what we see is a cycle. If I were to bet my own money on it, I'd bet the cyclic idea is right," - Dr.Joseph Lykken [BBC

Potential evidence of successive big bangs/Gurzadyan and R. Penrose  
In other words, there have been a number of theories over the years which propose the idea that our universe is cyclical. And some have even argued that there is physical evidence which supports them. Most notably, maps of our universe's cosmic background radiation, which some have interpreted as containing rings of radiation consistent with remnants of a previous -possibly even multiple- big bang(s).[SEE: eternal inflation and bubble collision ]. So if this whole quantum vacuum bubble thing turns out to be true, it could be a strong indication that the universe we currently live in, is just one of many iterations in a potentially endless series. Then again, future measurements of the proposed higgs particle could invalidate all these things -cause that's just how theoretical physics works. Either way, I certainly can't proclaim to understand all of this well enough to speculate as to weather or not it really does lend any further validity to the idea of a cyclical universe. I just thought it was something fun to think about. Which is kind of all this blog is really about.

Source: BBC News  
Image Credit: Cern , Gurzadyan and R. Penrose

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