October is usually the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony month. This year’s Physics Prize has been awarded to 3 Japanese and American researchers for their work on blue light-emitting diodes.
But a year ago, the Physics Prize was awarded to François Englert and Peter Higgs, for their work on the so called « God’s particle » : the Higgs boson. You probably know that already, as its discovery shook the whole world. And recently, medias have started again talking about it, so let’s take a look at what happened.
Higgs boson, was discovered very recently, in 2012. But that particle was nothing new, as Peter Higgs, François Englert, and four of their colleagues, have been working on it since 1964… The Higgs boson couldn’t be observed earlier due to inappropriate technology – until… now. It is the vault key of the Standard Model of Particle Physics, its discovery strengthens a lot the theory. This particle is the “glue” of our world. It gives other sub-atomic particles their mass, and thus the objects their shape and size.
With this « new » particle, this is a new field of research that just opened.
But, as Stephen Hawking said :
The Higgs boson has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable. …This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming.
Let’s put it in more simple terms. According to the quantum theory, the universe would currently be in a state of “fake vacuum”. It means the Universe is stable for a certain amount of time, but it can get to a lower energy state. And all the matter that is in the fake vacuum could get to a state of true vacuum.
If we do not interfere, the Universe would get to the true vacuum state in approximately 10^100 years. But theoretically, a tunnel linking those two states might exist. If an unstable Higgs boson was to be generated, it would create this tunnel. As a result, the whole universe would pass at the speed of light into an other physic state.
Just like the bubble described by Hawking.
But the energy required to achieve this transition is about 100 billion of GigaelectronVolts, while the largest particle collider puts out less than 100 TeraelectronVolts, a million times lower than what is required. Basically, with our current knowledge, such a powerful accelerator would be tens of thousands of kilometers large. As a comparison, Earth is only 12,600km large.
Not for today then.
But this might be possible in the future. If humanity keeps growing exponentially, this day might come sooner than expected. However, this is not a reason to stay awake all night : the true vacuum bubble would instantaneously get to you. There wouldn’t be any warning, you wouldn’t have the time to be scared. You can rest in peace.
More seriously, we know very little about the Universe. In fact, we can barely explain a fraction of the observed phenomena. For example, we can currently explain less than 20% of the matter which constitutes the Universe. All these theories are working for a certain set of phenomena, but they are far from being complete.
There are probably plenty of phenomena we don’t even know they exist.
You want some practical experiment ? Try putting a chewing-gum at the end of the trunk of an elephant. Not very scientific, but the result should be just as destructive – and way more fun.