You may have heard in the recent media that the world was going to end. Uh, again. Worse still, the devastation wasn’t
limited to Earth; the whole universe might end. Bad news, right? And you thought 2012 was the year to mark on your calendar.
The science behind the latest prediction isn’t particularly new – it was even the plot of a
sci-fi novel as long as a
decade ago. What is fairly new is the connection to the recently-measured Higgs boson mass at the LHC, but we’ll come
back to that. For now, we need to talk about metastable (temporarily stable) states.
Let’s imagine you’re at a party with a large group of friends. It’s getting late and there wasn’t enough food, so it’s
time to either order in a pizza or head out to a restaurant.
Annihilation of the universe is guaranteed to burst your bubble.
Right now, you and your friends are in a metastable energy
state – you’re not sure what option to go for, and it would only take a slight nudge in one direction to convince
everyone to go a particular way (“the garlic bread at that one cafe is worth the trip!”).
The food options are all lower energy states – you’ll all sit down and eat one way or another, and things naturally
tend towards lower energy states. Once one person goes, or makes the call to the pizza place, the party’s over:
everyone’s going to get some food.
So how does this tie in with the end of the universe (aside from the garlic bread not living up to its praise)?
According to quantum theory, it’s possible that the lowest energy state of our universe – when there’s nothing but
space and time – isn’t the lowest possible state of all.
In this picture, there exists an even lower energy state, one that our universe could transition to. That might not
sound too ominous until you learn that in the lower energy state, all the protons in all the matter in the universe decay,
with the unfortunate side effect that we cease to exist.
Worse still, the transition could happen at any time, anywhere in the universe, and expand at light speed from a tiny bubble
until it annihilates the entire universe as we know it, which would be, you know, bad.
Recently, this idea was re-examined within the context of the Standard Model of Particle Physics – the modern quantum theory
of subatomic particles and their interactions.
Precise calculations dictate that the stability of our universe is intimately
connected to the mass of the Higgs boson (and the top quark), a parameter which – thanks to the efforts of Large Hadron Collider –
is now known to be about 125 GeV.
It is the conclusions of this re-examination that have raised a furore in the media: the Standard Model predicts that
for our universe to be stable, the Higgs mass needs to be larger than 129.4 ± 5.6 GeV, so it only just fits within the
Ergo the end is nigh, at least in the units of time that cosmologists work with. But don’t stock your matter-collapsing-proof
shelter just yet – those time scales are billions to trillions of years.
Will the Universe End in a Big Rip?
How will our universe end? Recent speculation now includes a pervasive growing field of mysterious repulsive
phantom energy that rips virtually everything apart. Although the universe started with a Big Bang, analysis of
cosmological measurements allows a possibility that it will end with a Big Rip. As soon as few billion years from now,
the controversial scenario holds, dark energy will grow to such a magnitude that our own Galaxy will no longer be able
to hold itself together. After that, stars, planets, and then even atoms might not be able to withstand the expansive
internal force. Previously, speculation on the ultimate fate of the universe centered on either a re-collapsing Big
Crunch or a Big Freeze. Although the universe's fate is still a puzzle, piecing it together will likely follow from an increased understanding of
the nature of dark matter and dark energy. Photo Credits: Lynette Cook
There are of course, as always, objections to unfavourable conclusions. The main issue is that there are very good reasons
to believe the Standard Model provides an incomplete description of our universe.
For starters, it doesn’t include gravity, the experimentally observed neutrino masses, or explain the nature of the ever
elusive dark matter.
These glaring omissions have driven theoretical physicists to construct myriad extensions to the Standard Model that
introduce new states of matter. What’s important is that these additional states can easily change the conclusions
about the stability of our universe.
In models where there are two Higgs fields, the interactions between these fields can lead to a different set of energy
states from that which the Standard Model predicts.
If the universe does indeed contain multiple Higgs fields, there are indications from data collected at the Large
Hadron Collider that it’s very unlikely we live in a metastable regime, and that we’re safe.
You might ask what use a theory is that describes the end of the universe, particularly one that predicts it so far
in the future that our sun will long since have fizzled out (and in the process obliterated all life on Earth). The best
answer we can give is that this is fundamental research into the nature of our universe, and possibly of other universes.
It’s impossible to tell what we’ll learn about from looking into this, but it’s important that we do. Had we not looked
into General Relativity, we wouldn’t have the GPS systems our world relies on so delicately.
Is there much point worrying about something we won’t even see coming? Perhaps not, but it’s certainly remarkable that
a cosmological question of this nature can be probed by a laboratory experiment on Earth. The notion that we could
learn something about another possible universe, otherwise intangible by definition, is truly amazing.
Tractor Beams Of Light -
No Longer Pure Science Fiction!
Science fiction meets real science! "Tractor beams" - fascinating invisible beams that can push and pull objects, leave science fiction domain.
The concept of "tractor beam" used in science fiction films and books to haul spaceships and capture floating capsules gains scientific attention.
They Produce Water From The Air!
An Amazing Invention For Those Who Really Need It!
"How can we help someone so powerful they can create water out of thin air?" an astonished Jabin yells in Star Trek's Caretaker.
If you are a Star Trek fan you will remember how the Kazons try to aquire technology that can create water our of thin air.
This technology is no longer in the realms of science fiction. Today we can really create water out of thin air!
Star Trek Tricorder - Now Available Online For Anyone To Build!
Imagine you can see what cannot be seen. Wouldn't you want to actually be able to see beyond the visible?
The good news is that from now on it will be possible to see things we have previously only dreamt of.
We certainly live in exciting times. More and more devices that have long been considered pure science
fiction are now quickly becoming reality.
Do We Live In A Computer Simulation
Created By An Advanced Alien Civilization?
The captivating idea that we might be living in 3 dimensional holographic simulation has been put forward by various scientists.
We will explore this mind-boggling idea further and examine some intriguing questions.
If we suspect that we are programmed beings living inside a simulation is there any way for us to find out if this is true?
Is it possible to change the outcome of this virtual game?
Who could have created this matrix and for what reason?
Biometrics: Eye-Scanners Can Be Fooled
Iris scanning technologies allow people to use their eyes to prove their identify. S
canning your iris has been considered a very good security tool, but now it turns out it is actually possible to fool eye-scanners!
European Physicists Break Quantum Teleportation Record!
Teleportation experiments represent a crucial step toward future quantum networks in space, which require space
to ground quantum communication.
A few weeks ago, the Chinese physicists achieved a great progress by teleporting more than 1100 photons over a
distance of 97 kilometres in only four hours, but the teleportation competition still continues...
Levitating Ball Defies Gravity -
Incredible Technology Of The Future
Acccording to recent survey, a huge active fault was found under Mount Fuji, standing at 3,776 meters (12,385 feet) above sea level.
The dangerous fault can trigger a magnitude-7 earthquake, close to a volcano, changing the shape of the mountain and destroying nearby communities...
Artificial Intelligence: Super-Turing Machine Imitates Human Brain
As computer scientists this year celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the mathematical genius Alan Turing, who set out the basis for digital computing
in the 1930s to anticipate the electronic age, they still quest after a machine as adaptable and intelligent as the human brain.