Physicists Think They’ve Just Found a Self-Destruct Button for the Universe

The bad news is physicists believe the universe could have its own self-destruct button. The good news is it probably won’t get pushed for billions of years.

The so-called self-destruct mechanism revolves around the Higgs boson, or “God particle,” which was finally discovered by scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in 2012. In the documentary film, Particle Fever, which chronicled the historic discovery, scientists found that the mass of the particle was 125 GeV. This is significant because it split the difference between two competing schools of thought: one proposed a Higgs mass of 140 GeV, which would support the idea that our universe is situated inside a multiverse; the competing theory posited that the mass would be 115 GeV, which would support a ‘supersymmetry’ model of the universe. The conclusion substantiated neither theory.

Despite solving one of the great mysteries of modern science — shoring up the theoretical underpinnings of three of the four fundamental forces of the universe — the Higgs boson particle struck some physicists as problematic. One of them was Stephen Hawking. Hawking, who lost a $100 bet when the particle was discovered, began assembling a collection of essays called Starmus, which argued the “God Particle” may, in fact, be what destroys the universe.

In Starmus, Hawking describes how the quantum field by which the Higgs boson bestows mass upon particles makes it different than most others. Normally, these fields are vacuum states; but the Higgs field is not a true vacuum, and over time, is becoming unstable. When the Higgs field transitions to a high energy state, a process Hawking and others argue has begun, it will trigger a quantum fluctuation known as “vacuum decay.”

During the “vacuum decay,” which could quite literally begin any second, a metastable high energy bubble will begin to consume everything around it at the speed of light. Eventually, this bubble will reach the Earth, but this will probably take billions of years.

Some believe this process is a cycle that may have repeated itself countless times, creating and destroying the universe over and over.

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