An 'alternative universe' will eventually destroy ours, says Higgs researcher

Remember that Higgs-like particle that scientists finally managed to pin down last year at the Large Hadron Collider? Well, it's proving to be a harbinger of bad news. According to Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the mass of the Higgs boson indicates that "the universe we live in is inherently unstable, and at some point billions of years from now it's all going to get wiped out."

Lykken made his statements at the recently concluded AAAS meeting in Boston, and has been subsequently reported by BBC, LiveScience, and others.

The problem, says Lykken, is the potential for vacuum instability — a phenomenon that could spawn an all-consuming alternate universe within our own. But the doomsday scenario is dependant on some precise numbers related to the Higgs. Speaking to the BBC, he said: "It turns out there's a calculation you can do in our Standard Model of particle physics, once you know the mass of the Higgs boson."

After last year's Higgs discovery, he performed a calculation that indicated the potential for a quantum fluctuation — an event that would create a lower-energy state bubble that expands at the speed of light and "sweep everything before it." He predicts that it won't happen for many tens of billions of years — an era that will mark the end-stage of the Universe anyway.

"A little bubble of what you might think of as an ‘alternative' universe will appear somewhere and then it will expand out and destroy us," Lykken said.

Clara Moskowitz elaborates:

And finding the Higgs, if it's truly been found, not only confirms the theory about how particles get mass, but it allows scientists to make new calculations that weren't possible before the particle's properties were known.

For example, the mass of the new particle is about 126 billion electron volts, or about 126 times the mass of the proton. If that particle really is the Higgs, its mass turns out to be just about what's needed to make the universe fundamentally unstable, in a way that would cause it to end catastrophically in the far future.

That's because the Higgs field is thought to be everywhere, so it affects the vacuum of empty space-time in the universe.

"The mass of the Higgs is related to how stable the vacuum is," explained Christopher Hill, a theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. "It's right along the critical line. That could either be a cosmic coincidence, or it could be that there's some physics that's causing that. That's something new, which we didn't know before."

Looking ahead, particle physicists will need to nail down the precise mass of Higgs. If it's even just a few percentile points off the current estimate, Lykken's hypothesis can be thrown out the window.

Image by mangojuicy, via Shutterstock.