Higgs Mass May Signal Our Universe’s Explosive Demise

By Perrin Ireland | February 26, 2013 2:28 pm

Physicists announced last week that the Higgs Boson is light enough to make the Universe unstable, and predicted its catastrophic demise for several billion years from today.

Last summer, scientists finally found the long awaited Higgs Boson, a particle that, according to theoretical physics, gives all elementary particles mass. Without the Higgs, these particles would remain massless, and our bodies, blankets, cups of tea, dogs, and universe wouldn’t exist.

The Higgs particle is part of an equation that predicts the stability of the Universe, and now that we’ve found it, physicists can finally make calculations with that formula. For the Universe to maintain stability long term, the Higgs should weigh about 129 GEV. What they’re finding is that the Higgs is a bit on the light side, capping out at 126 GEV, and when that light weight is plugged into the equation—explosive universal demise ensues.

We think of a “vacuum” as being empty, but the trippy thing about space is that even vacuums have matter in them. The vacuum of space is filled with the Higgs field, which interacts with elementary particles, and gives rise to the Higgs particle. The vacuum of space can be in different energy states, but like all of nature, it is inclined towards the lowest energy state, where it will be the most stable. What we don’t know is which energy state our universe is in: is it high or low? What will it look like if it goes to a lower energy state?

Michael Tuts, a Columbia University professor of physics, described the phenomenon on Huffington Post Live as being like living in a valley up in the mountains—it can feel like you’re the lowest spot around, but it might be lower to be down at the beach. Maybe you can make a tunnel to the beach without having to climb the hills and descend into the valleys in between, in which case you and your universe can survive…or maybe you can’t get to a lower state that way…

One scenario for how the Universe might get to its desired low energy state is that a little bubble of an alternate universe will appear somewhere, and it will be in that desirable low energy state that our Universe wants to get to. The bubble will spread out and devour our Universe from within at the speed of light. But don’t worry; it won’t happen for a billion years. And we won’t feel it when it does.

But slightly changing any of the parameters in the calculation for the end of the universe changes the outcome: researchers are finding that the Higgs particle decays into photons more often than expected, which somehow implies we might find particles from the theory of supersymmetry. That theory argues that all ordinary particles have heavier “superpartners.” If the Higgs has a heavier superpartner, it might balance the scales and save us from destruction.

Speaking of cliffhangers, the next season of the Large Hadron Collider won’t kick up for two more years, as it’s closing for repairs and maintenance. When it does get up and running again, however, expect a wild ride, as it’ll be running at higher energy levels, affording more precise calculations. Hang on to your seats to know your universe’s fate!

“I think we should be buoyed by the fact that it’s amazing what we’re able to understand here in this random time in the middle of nowhere in the universe.” – theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
  • LUIS

    YOU CAN DO IT SUPERPARTNER!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ismailhabash0 Ismail Habash

    “I think we should be buoyed by the fact that it’s amazing what we’re able to understand here in this random time in the middle of nowhere in the universe.”

    WOW !!!

  • Salaminizer

    Science is not the answer. The search for answers is science.

  • Esra

    This is what ancient civilizations longed to do, but we’re using more predictable and reliable methods. The future generations will thank us!

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.randall.16 Robert Randall

    They Mayan were just off by a few zeros: 12/21/2012000000

  • JazzZyx

    Here’s what I have to say about it. Inspired by an autistic child I had the pleasure of working with.

    Quantum Musings (of an autistic child) … a poem?
    by bew!

    …it’s not an original idea,
    postulating that gravity
    spread across the multiverse
    explains its feeble force
    .
    it made sense to him
    when he read it in Discovery Magazine
    … but then why are not the other forces
    trans-space/time/dimensional too?

    hey, maybe gravity is God’s hand
    holding it all together …
    or God’s hyperbolic, trans-dimensional joke
    on old ladies with saggy boobs?

    …That’s what grandma says…

    the autistic boy
    pondered these things
    while walking in the drizzly rain
    … oh no! ten minutes late to school

    …. and how does an alpha or beta particle
    result from an unstable isotope’s neutron decay
    into a photon with an electron or proton (or is it neutron)
    flying out with gamma rays?

    … how about a photon
    exciting electrons,
    cascading, reflecting absorbing
    into an electron cloud?

    … hmmmm….
    the similarity of photons and electrons
    … and how does gamma radiation
    fit into the equation?

    “Ryan! …are you with us?” queries the TLC Teacher…

    “…star light, star bright…
    first star I see tonight
    I wish I may, I wish I might
    have this wish I wish tonight…”

    …how can an electron
    originate in the nucleus of an atom
    from the decay of a neutron?
    or a photon from fusion in the sun?

    …but if a photon excites the nucleus of an atom
    and the atom’s nucleus
    emits a subatomic particle
    is it then called a photon?

    … photon, electron, positron, beta particle
    all seem interchangeable
    only with different origins
    … and all are part of the electromagnetic spectrum …

    Can anyone shed some light on this?

    … “self absorption and getting lost
    in his cloistered quantum world
    aids and abets his social ineptitude”
    declares the Special Ed. Teacher at TLC

    … and if photons are bits of electromagnetic energy
    that emit from a transmuted neutron
    how is it that light is absorbed by or reflected from an object
    by the excitement of electrons in the electron cloud?

    …and if matter is mostly empty space,
    devoid even of subatomic particles at the quantum level
    why don’t most photons just pass through
    regardless of the vibrational frequency of photons and electrons?

    … ergo, everything should be transparent…

    …and let us not forget that electrons within the electron cloud
    have different energy levels
    of vibrational frequency
    embraced by their own wave function

    …. ah! I see the light! …

    the boy waves his hands
    with changing amplitude and frequency
    vibrating the cloud of dust motes ablaze
    from photons cascading through the window pane

    … a subatomic particle (bit if energy actually)
    originating from the electron cloud is an electron
    … a bit of energy with the same mass as an electron
    emanating from the nucleus is a positron …. or a photon…

    … and what about dark energy and matter
    we cannot perceive by any known means
    that quantum physicists believe in
    with religious fervor?

    … faith in string theory
    which in turn gives birth to the multiverse,
    seem as logically consistent
    as the Flying Spaghetti Monster … or the Holy Trinity

    …. or perhaps the alternate universes with which we co-exist
    ARE the yin to our yang
    and expressed as the attractive force of gravity
    that holds our universes together

    … as such, this attractive force
    would permeate the multiverse
    with gravity most focused
    where the matter of the infinite universes overlap

    … does this make at least as much sense
    as mythical ether?
    the dark energy and matter
    of quantum mysticism

    “I am mightier than gravity!”
    blurts the autistic child
    demonstratively
    as he picks up a crayon

    … if I am stronger than gravity
    how can IT hold the universe together?
    … because it never gives up …
    the trans-universal tortoise to the quantum electromagnetic hare

    … Ryan’s pet theory…
    the wave function itself imparts mass
    hence gravity to matter.
    not the God-like boson particle

    ..dark energy and dark matter
    …ephemeral as the neither world
    …so ya gotta read between the lines…
    …. God’s domain in the empty spaces

    … does the autistic child’s musing …
    God, Multiverse, Holy Trinity, Flying Spaghetti Monster
    in the same breath offend you?
    …tread lightly in your rebuttal …

    the autistic child may start headbanging
    ..talk softly
    …lightly hold his hand
    ….smile as you agree

    Quantum Musings (of an autistic child)

    …it’s not an original idea,
    postulating that gravity
    spread across the multiverse
    explains its feeble force
    .
    it made sense to him
    when he read it in Discovery Magazine
    … but then why are not the other forces
    trans-space/time/dimensional too?

    hey, maybe gravity is God’s hand
    holding it all together …
    or God’s hyperbolic, trans-dimensional joke
    on old ladies with saggy boobs?

    …That’s what grandma says…

    the autistic boy
    pondered these things
    while walking in the drizzly rain
    … oh no! ten minutes late to school

    … hmmmm….
    the similarity of photons and electrons
    … and how does gamma radiation
    fit into the equation?

    “Ryan! …are you with us?” queries the TLC Aid…

    “…star light, star bright…
    first star I see tonight
    I wish I may, I wish I might
    have this wish I wish tonight…”

    … photon, electron, positron, beta particle
    all seem interchangeable
    only with different origins
    … and all are part of the electromagnetic spectrum …

    Can anyone shed some light on this?

    … “self absorption and getting lost
    in his cloistered quantum world
    aids and abets his social ineptitude”
    declares the Special Ed. Teacher at TLC

    …. or perhaps the alternate universes with which we co-exist
    ARE the yin to our yang
    and expressed as the attractive force of gravity
    that holds our universes together

    … as such, this attractive force
    would permeate the multiverse
    with gravity most focused
    where the matter of the infinite universes overlap

    … does this make at least as much sense
    as mythical ether?
    the dark energy and matter
    of quantum mysticism

    …. ah! I see the light! …

    the boy waves his hands
    with changing amplitude and frequency
    vibrating the cloud of dust motes ablaze
    from photons cascading through the window pane

    … and what about dark energy and matter
    we cannot perceive by any known means
    that quantum physicists believe in
    with religious fervor?

    … faith in string theory
    which in turn gives birth to the multiverse,
    seem as logically consistent
    as the Flying Spaghetti Monster … or the Holy Trinity

    “I am mightier than gravity!”
    blurts the autistic child
    demonstratively
    as he picks up a crayon

    … if I am stronger than gravity
    how can IT hold the universe together?
    … because IT never gives up …
    the trans-universal tortoise to the quantum electromagnetic hare

    … Ryan’s pet theory…
    the wave function itself imparts mass
    hence gravity to matter.
    not the God-like boson particle

    ..dark energy and dark matter
    …ephemeral as the neither world
    …so ya gotta read between the lines…
    …. God’s domain in the empty spaces

    … does the autistic child’s musing …
    God, Multiverse, Holy Trinity, Flying Spaghetti Monster
    in the same breath offend you?
    …tread lightly in your rebuttal …

    the autistic child may start headbanging
    ..talk softly
    …lightly hold his hand
    ….smile as you agree

    • http://www.facebook.com/donna.lenhardt Donna Lenhardt

      Awesome! Musings of the same sort that my 14 year old and I share, though not so poetically. May I print and post this as art in my home?

      • JazzZyx

        Donna
        Thanks! It’s one of my favorites, although I expect many folks don’t really get it. “Ryan” is actually a combination of two autistic middle-school aged kids I have worked with, and myself (Asperger’s, if that is still an acceptable dx). Please do post, and share as you see fit , but please do give me credit as bew! (my initials with an exclamation point). bew!

  • duelles

    What is wonderful is that through science we(scientists) keep proving the last science wrong or at least incomplete.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Mike Bro

    Question: If the higgs boson weight falls within the range predicting a transition from the current higher energy state to a lower state does that not also suggest that what we perceive as the big band could have been a similar transition from a higher energy state to the current one? What does quantum cosmology predict about a previous, higher energy state??

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Visual Science

Science stories, beautifully told.

About Perrin Ireland

Perrin Ireland is a visual science storyteller. She is a lifelong doodler, a learner who needs to visualize scientific concepts in order to understand them. She is Senior Science Communications Specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, where she helps creatively tell the stories of the science that underlies NRDC's work. www.nrdc.org.

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