Brian Cox says the sun will eventually make life 'impossible'
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The Universe is going to end one day, that much is certain, though scientists still argue over how it will happen. One theory suggests the world will end in “heat death” – a state in which the Universe becomes too cold to sustain life. Other hypothetical models predict the Universe will literally tear itself apart at the subatomic level in the “Big Rip”, driven by dark energy and the expansion of space.
Another interesting theory about the end of the world has been given some credence in recent years after physicists discovered the elementary Higgs Boson particle at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in 2012.
This new model is known as the “vacuum decay” of the Universe, although it is also sometimes called the “Cosmic Death Bubble”.
According to this hypothetical scenario, there is an instability in the so-called Higgs Field, which stretches across the entire Universe.
Scientists believe the Higgs Field together with the Higgs Boson interacts with other particles, like electrons or quarks, to give them mass.
And if something were to go wrong with this field, some scientists predict the results would be absolutely catastrophic for the Universe.
Cosmologist Katie Mack described this hypothetical scenario on the FQXi podcast last week where she appeared to promote her book, The End of Everything (Astrophysically speaking).
The book covers all the different ways in which scientists today believe the Universe could end.
Dr Mack said: “Vacuum decay is in some sense the most humane of the ways that the Universe could go out because you would not see it coming so you don’t have to be scared of it, you wouldn’t feel it happen to you and there would be no tragic aftermath. Everything would just be done.
What is a Higgs Boson
“The idea behind vacuum decay is that it seems that there’s some possibility that the Higgs Field – this kind of energy field that pervades all of space, that’s connected to the Higgs Boson to this set up of rules of particle physics – it’s possible that this Higgs Field is not entirely stable.”
If the Higgs Field truly is unstable, then the field’s value could change in some part of the Universe.
If this ever happened, the change would propagate outwards at the speed of light in what Dr Mack described as a “bubble of doom”.
This bubble would completely change and rearrange the Universe as we know it, spelling certain doom for all life.
The expert explained: “As it propagates outward and as it collides with things it would put everything into a kind of space where the laws of physics are different, particles don’t hold together anymore, maybe everything inside of the bubble collapses into a black hole.
“It’s a real big mess and so it’s an idea that’s been around for a while, that there’s a possibility our Higgs vacuum is not stable. It’s so-called metastable.
“The idea is that there are different vacuum states possible, where a vacuum state is just the term for, like, the rules of physics in our Universe and those are kind of determined by the Higgs Field.
“And so, if the Higgs Field has a different value in a different vacuum state, we have different rules of the Universe.”
If we are living inside of what is called a false vacuum, where it’s not the Universe’s prefered energy state, then scientists speculate this could occur.
You would see a transition into a “true vacuum” where Dr Mack said “the laws of physics are all different and we all die”.
Luckily for us, the expert said the chances of this happening are small – but it could happen at any moment at any point in space.
Dr Mack added: “Technically speaking, if it’s going to happen, it could happen at any time and that’s one of the things that make it an interesting thing to think about.
“It could be this sort of bubble of doom that forms somewhere in space and destroys us all.”
One small consolation: If it does happen, the bubble will hit us at the speed of light so you won’t even see it coming.
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