Well-known British physicist Stephen Hawking has sparked worry in the public after it was revealed that he believes a cosmic death bubble caused by changes to the field Higgs boson is associated with could wipe out the Universe.
The scientist has warned that the Higgs boson- the subatomic particle which gives us our shape and size – could become so unstable that it would cause space and time to collapse. Hawking made his comments in the preface to a new book, Starmus, “The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100bn gigaelectronvolts (GeV). This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time and we wouldn't see it coming.”
We have asked Dr. Sergey Sushkov, the head of the Department of Relativity Theory and Gravity of the KFU Institute of Physics, to make a point or to confute the argument.
- Hawking meant that if we could get above 100bn GeV in our Universe, an unstable Higg's boson could probably appear to become a sort of a tunnel between false and true vacuums, said Sergey Sushkov.
The scientist explained what false and true vacuums are.
- We exist in a Universe created as a result of cooling, accompanied by various changes in the system. This is exactly what the Standard Model of particle physics is based on. As a result, the Universe may have two types of vacuum – true and false.
In some areas there is false vacuum (Vacuum A), whereas in others we have false vacuum (Vacuum B). In fact, the state of the false vacuum is not stable, it is quasi-stable.
Kazan scientist explained that the difference between vacuums is in the energy only.
- The essential difference between both types of vacuum is in their potential. The true vacuum has zero energy, whereas the one of the false vacuum differs from zero. And when there is vacuum with less potential, the false one will tend to occupy the vantage point. Thus, Higgs potential has “the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100bn GeV. It may in fact mean that the Higgs doomsday may occur one day.
The Higgs boson accompanies an invisible energy field called the Higgs field. These fields, responsible for the Universe expansion, are currently quasi-stable. And according to Hawking's calculations, an enormous amount of energy would be required to change it – 100 bln GeV. Doctor Sushkov wonders if such energy could be produced on the Earth.
- A catastrophic event may occur even if the received energy reaches the number Hawking announced. Today the energy level we may produce on Earth, in Large Hadron Collider at CERN, is far from the Hawking's numbers. Thus, the energy received at the collider is 8TeV (81012eV or 8000GeV). So it is evident that it is far from the Hawking's level. It is proposed that future accelerators will produce 14TeV (141012 eV0 but it will not reach 1011GeV, anyway.
However, the scientists supposes that energies bigger than in the Large Hadron Collider may exist somewhere beyond our galaxy.
- The Hawking's idea makes scientists consider the existence of extragalactic sources of such great energy. It can be gamma-ray bursts (flashes of gamma rays associated with extremely energetic explosions that have been observed in distant galaxies). Their duration is several seconds but they can last up to one hour and produces the energy of 1051 erg. It is a lot! And astronomers should focus on them and analyze their opportunities.
Sergey Sushkov explained the reason why this issue appeared in media and became so popular.
- Stephen Hawking is a pre-eminent physicist living a complicated life, he is struggling with the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis., As you have already mentioned, in late October he is publishing his new book “Starmus”, a compilation of best physicists' lectures. And he wants to draw the audience's attention to his work. We are looking forward to the book and hope it will not disappoint us.