Saturday, February 23, 2013

Higgs boson to explain why universe may collapse

In order to understand the unimaginable vastness of the universe and its mysterious behaviour, it is necessary to study the smallest entities we know to exist. Particles are the foundation of all of physics, and can be used to explain all phenomena we encounter. Recently, scientists discovered the Higgs boson, a particle that is, among other things, expected to explain us why other particles have mass. Astronomers now also believe that the existence of the Higgs boson gives rise to a theory that may eventually result in the universe collapsing in on itself.

To explain why the universe may collapse, it is again necessary to go back to the smallest elements. In quantum physics, there is something called the uncertainty principle. It describes a fundamental limit to our measurements; not due to our limited tools for measuring, but because it is physically impossible to do so. It is defined as something like this: the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. This also says that a vacuum cannot exist: something cannot be completely 'nothing'. Experiments back this up, as we have found tiny fluctuations in vacuums that result in the creation and destruction of so-called virtual particles, constantly moving in and out of existence.

Now that the Higgs is found, it appears that there are some calculations in the Standard Model of physics that help us determine the eventual fate of the universe. Because we now know how heavy the Higgs boson is, we can create mathematical models that show that tiny bubbles can be created in our universe, due to the aforementioned fluctuations. And because these bubbles are a low-energy state, it means that space collapses in on itself, sort of like a black hole.

Some of these bubbles may become so big that they do not disappear, but instead expand. According to the calculations, this happens with the speed of light and it means all of space as we know it will be swept away. This results in the demise of the universe, but it also means a new universe will be born that consequently can expand again. Astronomers believe that there may be something referred to as a cyclical universe, that constantly renews itself. Obviously, the time frame for this phenomenon is extremely large.

So far, all these assumptions are based on a mathematical model. However, because we know quantum fluctuations to exist, and there are more theories regarding a 'big crunch' of the universe, it may not be far-fetched. After all, we know there has been a great expansion after the Big Bang, which means such things could also be possible the other way around. 

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