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Will The Higgs Boson Destroy The Universe In A Cosmic Death Bubble?  

55 comments

No, it won’t.

Some context: over the weekend, several press outlets took a chunk of Stephen Hawking’s latest book and ran a bit off the deep end with it, reporting that the “God Particle” was going to wipe out the universe. Here’s what Hawking wrote in the preface to the upcoming book Starmus:

“The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100bn gigaelectronvolts (GeV). This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming.”

(And note that Hawking says Higgs potential, not Higgs boson. Those are different things: the Higgs potential refers to the potential energy of the Higgs field; the Higgs boson is a particle that is a manifestation of that same field.)

How does this all relate to the end of the universe? Before the Higgs boson was discovered, scientists wondered if we live in a stable universe, an unstable one, or one that’s metastable—stable for an extended time period, but not at the absolutely most stable point it could be at. Now that the Higgs boson has been discovered and the first measurements of its mass made, scientists think that we’re probably living in a metastable state. Basically, our universe seems to be comfortably tucked in a valley of energy states, but it’s still not the lowest ground around. If something pushes us up and over the side of our valley (or tunnels through the valley wall), we could fall into new and lower territory.

The process of transitioning to a lower energy state is sometimes called “vacuum decay.” If it occurred at any point in the universe, the bubble of this new vacuum state would expand outward at the speed of light. We wouldn’t have any warning until we were obliterated very suddenly. But getting to this new state requires an intense amount of energy—which is one of the reasons why Katie Mack, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Melbourne, thinks it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll be swallowed up by a cosmic death bubble any time soon.

If the universe was going to fall to that lower energy state, “it would have done that in the very early universe, which was a very energetic time; the energy from inflation would have kicked us into the other vacuum in the tiniest fraction of a second,” Mack says.

The gargantuan energy levels thought to be necessary for this transition can also occur in cosmic ray collisions, Mack says, but building a particle collider that packs that kind of power is well beyond human capabilities at this time (Hawking himself notes in Starmus that such a collider would have to be larger than Earth). So discovering the Higgs boson or turning on the Large Hadron Collider makes it no more likely that vacuum decay will occur.

Even so, our metastable universe does have the potential to drop further down. But most physicists think that this decay won’t happen for eons, if it happens at all. Further experiments and new calculations could also reveal that the universe is more stable than previously thought.

“Everything Hawking says is true; the Higgs potential is what governs what vacuum state we’re in, and we can transition,” Mack says. “But it’s really unlikely that would happen. Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to defend the poor little Higgs boson—it’s not out to hurt us.”

Comments

Comments

  1. Only humans think they can actually destroy the universe with such primitive technology

  2. Reality Lives everywhere Throughout Eternity! inside and Out! and everywhere inbetween!!…. there is no end there is no beginning…Life will never Go Away..EVER!…*

  3. It could, but it won’t be for millions of years…. Didn’t anyone read it..?

  4. It hasn’t wiped anything else out yet. That’s kinda of like saying dark matter will destroy the universe. I get the jist of what he is conveying, but he is known to over exaggerate things to prove smaller points. He is like a newspaper he has a huge headline that can’t be ignored to attract people to the story.

  5. NO NO NO ! Jesus Christ said He would return to save the Saints and the world from antichrist & false prophet and dictator beast. So Jesus cannot return if the UNIVERSE is destroyed, DUAH !!

  6. El fausto en toda su expresión. Ojalá no desaparezcamos (tan rápido) por la ambición de un puñado de “genios”. de que vamos a desparecer , desapareceremos mientras varios intentan explicarse la “inmortalidad del cangrejo”.

  7. AstroKatie Mainly because the experiment didn’t suddenly Make It Start Being There

  8. AstroKatie The universe alreasy is a cosmic death bubble! It don’t need no help from Higgseses…

  9. AstroKatie I hate it when people use Betteridge’s Law as an excuse to write sensationalized headlines.

  10. mcnees I see it as a response to a bunch of coverage saying that the Higgs WILL destroy the Universe, so fair enough.

  11. AstroKatie “This lake has the worrisome feature that it is deep in some parts and could drown you. So don’t make any ripples anywhere!”

  12. AstroKatie Stupid dumbest scary story ever. If we built an accelerator as big as a planet, Eeeee! Yeah & we could knock down NYC with a BB.

  13. Reality IS More interesting than Fictions: C=E/0~C, constant spatial propagational parameters.!…

  14. YES! Or ISIS, PUTIN, and ohh yeah OBAMA too, there’ll racing to do so … :)

  15. AstroKatie Please wait for all the data to come in before jumping to conclusions.

  16. PSA: Those who read the article can tell who, of the commenters, read the article and who didn’t.

  17. Scientist keep trying to harness things they don’t fully understand…in their search for connecting everything they may find some things are best left alone and misunderstood…the key word used repeatedly was “unlikely” not “can’t or won’t”.

  18. As a BB agnostic, I’m betting that electromagnetism will be the unifying force that ties it all together. Gravity is so 17th century. In Mawell we trust.

  19. Thank you, Brian, for explaining this. Hawkings seems to enjoy being a bearer of bad cosmic news lately.

  20. No. The particle accelerator would have to be the size of earth itself. Let alone the power to run the thing is insufficient

  21. AstroKatie Did I miss something about someone prominent saying it would? Is this b/c LHC starts up again soon?

  22. Fine, but believe what he actually said, not some media guru’s translation of it.

  23. I do not expect Hawking to
    give experimental proof that GOD’S PARTICLE may become DEVIL’S PARTICLE.. But
    he should provide mathematical proof for his conclusion. Moreover such
    discussion should be in journals  or in chapters of TEXT OF BOOK with details
    not in the PREFACE  of book. I am afraid  this prediction is for book
    publicity.

    http://www.AjayOnLine.us

  24. How does the whole Higgs field theory relate to the theory of general relativity? Are they compatible? I think General relativity is a lot better established than Higgs field theory. Even Higgs admits that there are big renormalization problems that make his theory unrepresentative of reality.  .

  25. forgive me for not reading. if the Higgs Boson Bubble(what ever that is)is traveling at the speed of light, will it not be going back in time ? is time going to catch up. where it originates does matter also, space is the only true infinity that we may perceive as entity because it does exist even though it exists as nothing. traveling at trillions of light yrs. per second you can never reach the end of space, you can’t even reach halfway it’s infinite and that means, no matter how far you have already traveled you can go twice as far.
    slayerwulfe cave

  26. slayerwulfe Going the speed of light doesn’t mean that it will be going back in time, no. The closer it got to the speed of something without mass the less on board time it would experience. The lifespan of a photon is so short from its perspective due to its incredible speed that it is better to think of it in its other manifestation as a wave being stretched trillions of light years
    .

  27. BigQuestionLiLAnswers slayerwulfe i thank you for comment. i hope to hear from you, a wave of what ?that does not exhibit mass ? something that has no mass being stretched. i believe we try too hard to use the inefficiency of language to describe what we don’t comprehend. your own statement “in it’s other manifestation” when that only exists in your mind not in reality. that explains theoretical ! whats happening where we are is not just totally but absolutely inconsequential to infinity. 
    slayerwulfe cave

  28. Il tempo delle varietà implicite delle distanze sono corto circuite di integrali di numeri primi in addizione. Grazie PROFESSORE LUCASIANO STEPHAN HAWKING

Trackbacks

  1. […] Hay muchas explicaciones en inglés, recomiendo Don Lincoln, “What Hawking really meant,” Symmetry Magazine, 11 Sep 2014; Matt Strassler, “Will the Higgs Boson Destroy the Universe???,” Of Particular Significance, 10 Sep 2014; Kelly Dickerson, “Stephen Hawking Says ‘God Particle’ Could Wipe Out the Universe,” Live Science, 8 Sep 2014; Roxanne Palmer, “Will The Higgs Boson Destroy The Universe In A Cosmic Death Bubble?,” World Science Festival, 8 Sep 2014. […]

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