February 19, 2013
Is The Universe Infinite? Not Likely, Say Physicists
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Scientists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (FNAL) told reporters the universe may not be infinite after all.
Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist with FNAL in Batavia, Illinois, spoke to reporters at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Boston, saying recent calculations show its "bad news" for the future of the universe.
"It may be 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, who is also on the science team at Europe's Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, told Reuters.
Last year, physicists at CERN say they discovered the elusive subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson (God particle). If this discovery gets confirmed, it could help resolve how the universe came into existence about 13.7 billion years ago.
Lykken said the calculations show that tens of billions of years from now, there could be a catastrophe in the universe.
"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.
Scientists still have about a third of the collision data from the Higgs boson particle observation to sift through. For now, the scientists say they have found a "Higgs-like" particle, rather than outright claiming it to be the particle, since there is still more work to do to confirm it.
Currently, the LHC is in shutdown, going through a few years of repairs, and it will not be running again until late 2014. The shutdown began last Thursday morning, and now engineers will be working to get it running at 14 TeV by the end of next November.
A concept known as vacuum instability could be the demise of our own universe, as a new one erupts to replace the one we know. This concept depends on precise calculations related to the Higgs, so the idea of our own universe's end depends on scientists' ability to pin down the Higgs Boson.
Scientists theorized the idea of the universe's long-term stability before the Higgs discovery, but new calculations of mass settling in at about 126 million electron volts hints at a critical number for determining the fate of the universe. In order to know the calculations, scientists must understand the mass of the Higgs to within one percent, as well as the precise mass of other related subatomic particles.
"You change any of these parameters to the Standard Model (of particle physics) by a tiny bit and you get a different end of the universe," Lyyken said.
Regardless of the future of the universe, it's well known the Earth wouldn't survive that long anyways, due to the inevitable demise of the sun. Physicists believe the sun will burn out in 4.5 billion years, expanding out into a supernova and destroying the Earth in its path.