How To Tell When To Expect The End Of The Universe

When a Higgs-like particle appeared in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) last year, it not only allowed scientists to confirm the possible existence of a particle that would fit neatly into the standard model by lending particles mass, it also allowed them to come up with new theories about the universe and its eventual destruction.

Although this particular scenario would take place billions of years after our sun would already be toast, there's always the possibility that our descendants will have colonized other solar systems, so they should definitely be warned that a cyclical model of the universe is gaining traction in the astrophysics sector.

Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, says that because of a concept called vacuum instability, our universe and the big bang that formed it could also be the result of one of these cycles.

"If you use all the physics we know now," he told BBC, now that detectors have estimated the mass of a Higgs particle to be about 126 gigaelectronvolts, "and you do this straightforward calculation — it's bad news."

Essentially, because quantum systems are constantly in flux, there is a chance that a tiny bubble of vacuum could be created that all of existence "really wants to be in," Lykken explained. Because the bubble is in a lower-energy state than the rest of the universe, rather than the universe collapsing in on it, it would expand at the speed of light and swallow the cosmos as it goes, replacing this universe with a new one.

Lykken spoke at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

Until scientists finish processing data on the Higgs-like particle, they have refrained from definitively naming it as the Higgs-boson. Unfortunately, the Large Hadron Collider will be shut down until 2015 to repair faults and perform maintenance, at which point it will finally begin to run at full power.

Before the LHC was first booted up, some people expressed apprehension that it could create black holes, a fear that some have expressed again after finding out the LHC was only operating at half power until now. One astute commenter on BBC noted that if the LHC does generate a black hole, it will most likely disappear quickly — and if it doesn't, the earth would be sucked out of existence so quickly that it wouldn't matter to us either way.

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