There’s a cosmic death bubble headed our way. And while we wish Cosmic Death Bubble was simply the awesome name of a Viking Metal band, unfortunately it’s an all-too-real threat in the universe, caused by changes to the field associated with the infamous god particle. Professor Stephen Hawking believes that one day a change in the universe’s energy state could cause the universe to “undergo catastrophic vacuum decay” whereby a vacuum bubble expanding at the speed of light plows through space, destroying everything in its path. But don’t worry, it probably won’t occur for <billions of years.
The Higgs boson is a fundamental particle that was first predicted back in 1964 by a group of physicists, including Peter Higgs. The Higgs boson accompanies an invisible energy field called the Higgs field which is responsible for mass. Physicists believe that the energy state of the Higgs field may be slowly changing over time. Using data collected at the CERN Large Hadron Collider, physicists were able to measure the value of the Higgs boson mass, which was found to be approximately 125 gigaelectron volts (GeV), or 125 billion electron volts. This precise mass is required to maintain the universe at the verge of instability, or at a metastable state. But if this state collapses – as Hawking thinks it might – the universe will become unstable, triggering a catastrophic event. A change in energy could spark something called quantum tunneling which would basically provide a shortcut into a lower energy state. This transition is sometimes called “vacuum decay.” If it occurred, the bubble of this new vacuum state would expand through space at the speed of light, obliterating everything in its path. Theoretical physicist Joseph Lykken, says “we’re sort of right on the edge where the universe can last for a long time, but eventually it should go ‘boom.’ But theoretical astrophysicist Katie Mack says we should relax: “If the universe was going to fall to that lower energy state, it would have done that in the very early universe, which was a very energetic time; the energy from inflation would have kicked us into the other vacuum in the tiniest fraction of a second.” So the good news is either that it’s not going to happen, or it won’t happen for quite a while. So don’t worry … unless, of course, the Yellowstone Supervolcano erupts, in which case, start running.