New calculations suggest the Universe could collapse at any time

All things being equal, the universe is set to continually expand, eventually ripping itself to shreds in about 22 billion years. But Danish scientists say an expanding bubble of existential doom could crush the Universe into a tiny ball. And crazily, the odds of this collapse is higher than previously thought.

This theory isn't actually new. But the scientists who conducted the new study say previous calculations were incomplete. Their new, more precise calculations, now show that (1) the universe will probably collapse, and (2) a collapse is even more likely than the old calculations predicted.

To reach this conclusion, researchers from the University of Southern Denmark analyzed three equations that drive the theory, including beta functions (which are used to determine such things as the strength of interactions between light particles and electrons, or Higgs bosons and quarks). But instead of working with one equation at at time, they applied these equations together, revealing a higher probability of a collapse.

Sudden Weight Gain

New calculations suggest the Universe could collapse at any timeS

This particularly collapse theory — which predicts a cataclysmic disruption to standard model vacuum stability — is distinct from the old Big Crunch theory. It suggests that there will eventually be a radical shift in the forces of the universe such that every single particle within it will become extremely heavy. Yes — everything. The particles in the Sun, in your body, and in your smartphone. And we're not just talking a little bit heavier; models predict a weight increase on the order of millions of billions times heavier than they are now.

To say that this would have disastrous consequences would be a gross understatement. Owing to tremendous gravitational forces, everything within the Universe would be squeezed into a tiny, hot, and heavy ball. For all practical purposes, it would be the end of the Universe.

Blame it on the Higgs

This phase transition could happen if a bubble is created where the Higgs-field associated with the Higgs-particle reaches a different value than the rest of the universe.

Should the new value create lower energy, and if the bubble is large enough, it will expand outwards in all directions at the speed of light. Everything caught inside this bubble will experience dramatic weight gain and collect into supermassive centers. In turn, these centers will attract each other, and on and on until we get our tiny, hot, and heavy ball of utter uselessness.

It Could Already Be Happening

And here's what's even more crazy: This could be happening as we speak.

"The phase transition will start somewhere in the universe and spread from there," says Jens Frederik Colding Krog, PhD student at the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics Phenomenology (CP3) and co-author of an article on the subject that appears in the Journal of High Energy Physics. "Maybe the collapse has already started somewhere in the universe and right now it is eating its way into the rest of the universe. Maybe a collapse is starting right now, right here. Or maybe it will start far away from here in a billion years. We do not know." The comments were made in a recent statement.

Wanted: New Kinds of Particles

Krog says that the whole thing could be canceled if there are other elementary particles out there that we don't know about. Fascinatingly, some cosmologists at CP3 believe that the Higgs particle is not an elementary particle, but rather an amalgam of even smaller particles called techni-quarks. What's more, supersymmetry theory predicts the existence of yet undiscovered particles — like selectrons for electrons, fotinos for photons, and so on. Should this be the case, then the entire collapse model....uh...collapses.

Oh, and for the record, this isn't the first time the Higgs particle has been implicated in universal doom.

Read the entire study at the preprint journal arXiv: "Standard Model Vacuum Stability and Weyl Consistency Conditions".

Images: Adolf Schaller/NASA-MSFC Jens Frederik Colding Krog.