March 1, 2013
Higgs Boson: Destroyer Of The Universe!
Oh my God, for such a tiny particle, the Higgs boson is causing a lot of debate.
Last year, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Cern, Switzerland announced that they have found what they think is the Higgs boson. The boson was theorized in 1964 by Peter Higgs as the quantum of the Higgs field that permeates everything and imparts mass. It took the scientific world 48 years to catch up technologically with Higgs’ theories and prove them. Well, almost prove them.
Right now, they are calling it the “Higgs-like boson” because they haven’t measured everything. But as I reported earlier this month for redOrbit, the ” likelihood that the detection is simply due to random fluctuations currently stands at about 1 in 100 billion – a clear indication that the signal found at the LHC is most likely due to the Higgs.”
I’m not going to give you a whole graduate level course in the Higgs boson in this article; if you need a refresher course, check out these articles.
So, what is the new controversy? Apparently, this new and wonderful particle we have just discovered is going to spell the destruction of our entire universe. Really. For something that has been around since the beginning of the universe, it certainly is causing a lot of stir.
LiveScience reports that some scientists are saying the Higgs boson discovery has opened the door to some new calculations that suggest the universe is in for a cataclysm. Don’t worry too much, their calculations say it will be billions of years from now.
“It may be 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,” Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator reported at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Tim Barklow, a physicist at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California, says to think of the Higgs field like the hills and valleys of a field of grass. The field has a certain potential energy that relates to how it interacts with itself, and this energy has minimums (valleys) and maximums (hills). Current calculations suggest the field is currently at a minimum. The worry is that it could “tunnel” to a different minimum, giving it totally different properties. In quantum mechanics, tunneling is the equivalent of boring through a hill from one valley to another, rather than traveling over the top and back down. So, like a train tunnel through a mountain, right?
The field could become much stronger at this new potential minimum, causing the universe’s particles to gain mass in a whole new way. Changes to the mass of protons and electrons could have drastic repercussions; atoms, planets, stars, galaxies and yes, even your own body would not hold together as they do now.
“Then all the laws of physics change and everything is torn apart,” said Barklow, a member of the ATLAS collaboration of scientists at the LHC, one of the projects that discovered the possible Higgs boson.
How likely is this to happen? Well, there isn’t really a consensus on that one. It all depends on the mass of the Higgs boson, the mass of the top quark, and something called the “vacuum instability” of the universe. So far, they have nailed down the mass of the boson at 126 billion electron volts, or roughly 126 times the mass of a proton. The mass of the top quark isn’t certain yet.
“The presence of this phenomenon depends on the top quark being heavy and the Higgs being very light,” said SLAC theoretical physicist Michael Peskin. “It turns out the top quark is very heavy and the Higgs is lighter than a lot of people thought it would be.”
What’s the take away message here? We don’t know. It’s a theory, and just one amongst many. But it does make for a great headline.
Image Credit: Igor Zh. / Shutterstock