It wasn’t quite clear what physicist Joe Lykken meant earlier this week when he suggested that our universe could be overtaken by expanding bubbles of a more boring kind of universe.
I wrote to ask him and he jusr got back to me. It turns out that according to current measurements of the Higgs boson and other fundamental particles, there could be a more stable state of things called the “true vacuum”.
Why is the true vacuum boring? Because the Higgs field behaves differently.
The Higgs field is thought to pervade space, like a magnetic or electric field, and its presence determines the masses of some of the particles that make up matter. So if you change the Higgs field, you can get a problem:
Here’s how Lykken explains it:
If the Higgs vacuum instability is what you get from a straightforward Standard Modelcalculation, then the true vacuum has the Higgs field turned on at a value very roughlyequal to the Planck energy scale, i.e. a trillion times larger than what it is today. Thisleads to a boring universe with superheavy matter that probably just collapses intoblack holes without making stars (or planets or life).
Boring is kind of a subjective term, but if this new universe couldn’t support life that would probably fit many people’s definition. Lykken was careful to not that such an event is highly unlikely to occur in the near future. For the most part, he succeeded in not scaring people too much.
I did get one email from someone who said she was actually worried about the universeending, but in general the feedback is very positive.
Higgs the cat says he feels vindicated:
Higgs: I always knew a vacuum would be the agent of our destruction. True, false, Hoover, Dustbuster – The noise is unbearable. I abhor them all.