Scientists predict Higgs boson probably should have caused our universe to collapse? But it didn't. Why?
One possible signature of a Higgs boson from a simulated collision
between two protons. It decays
of hadrons and two. . . are you following this? I'm not.
I think we all know that we're living in an age of amazing scientific research and discovery. It's a given that most of the scientists who ever lived in the 6.5 million year history of the human animal are alive and working today.
It's safe to say that we're in the beginning of a remarkable scientific golden age. At the beginning? Yep. Which means that there is far more that we don't know than we do. And you're safe in assuming we don't know much given that we live on a hinky-dinky little planet way out in the boondocks of space, far, far away from the galactic center.
Science is a process that accretes knowledge much as a pearl accretes around a grain of sand in an oyster. You start with a question. You seek an answer to that question. You find an answer to that question.
And the answer poses ten or twenty or a hundred new questions.
Take the Higgs boson, a particle that existed very briefly immediately after the Big Bang. The theory was that this particle is what gives all other particles mass. Don't ask me how, I've read and reread the reports, and it sounds a bit like voodoo. But, this is how cosmologists and physicists and mathematicians had it worked out.
So the quest was to prove the theory by finding a Higgs boson. How do you find something incredibly small that only existed very briefly at the beginning of time? Obviously, to some at least, you create a machine that recreates the conditions that existed at the beginning of time. The CERN particle collider in Switzerland, a huge, expensive set of magnets and computers that accelerates particles to damn near the speed of light then sets them up for head on collisions. How cool is that? Makes crashing toy cars together seem like child's play. Which it is.
The CERN Large Hadron Collider is built. (Hadron? Beats me, maybe a reader know what it is. I haven't a clue.)
Anyway, the experiment is on. Only, some theorists say, "Wait. If you succeed in creating a real Higgs boson, it could create a black hole which could end the planet."
More theoretical work, mostly in the language of math, and it was determined that the probability of this happening was acceptably low. (To whom is this risk acceptable is the question. They never asked me. Did they ask you?) So they run the experiments, scientists and observers giggling like school boys as they slam elementary particles together resulting in spectacular collisions (except for one neurotic guy in the back who was waiting for it all to come crashing down into a black hole. Luckily, he was wrong.)
And then, in July 2012, they find the particle in question, THE Higgs boson. Of course, they don't know this for the months it took to analyze the data, but eventually, someone stood up and said, "Eureka. We found it. Probably."
Probably? Yes, because the best we can say about any subatomic particle is probably. Particle physics is all about the odds of something being somewhere sometime probably spinning this way or that but probably not. And the probability that we found the Higgs boson is such that we can conclude that we found it.
Where is this leading? To one of the questions that arose from the analysis of the results of all those collisions.
According to Robert Hogan, a PhD student at King's College London, we shouldn't be here. The universe as we know it shouldn't exist. It should have collapsed back into itself right after the Big Bang as a Great Big Thud.
While some might argue that our universe, or at least the Earth, is a Great Big Thud, obviously we are here and able to ask the question many cosmologists are asking today, "WTF?"
Here's the story from the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth as it's being presented today, 24 June 2014:
British cosmologists are puzzled: they predict that the Universe should not have lasted for more than a second. This startling conclusion is the result of combining the latest observations of the sky with the recent discovery of the Higgs boson.
After the Universe began in the Big Bang, it is thought to have gone through a short period of rapid expansion known as 'cosmic inflation'. Although the details of this process are not yet fully understood, cosmologists have been able to make predictions of how this would affect the Universe we see today.
In March 2014, researchers claimed to have detected one of these predicted effects. If true, their results are a major advance in our understanding of cosmology and a confirmation of the inflation theory, but they have proven controversial and are not yet fully accepted by cosmologists.
In the new research, scientists investigated what the observations mean for the stability of the Universe. To do this, they combined the results with recent advances in particle physics. The detection of the Higgs boson by the Large Hadron Collider was announced in July 2012; since then, much has been learnt about its properties.
Measurements of the Higgs boson have allowed particle physicists to show that our universe sits in a valley of the 'Higgs field', which describes the way that other particles have mass. However, there is a different valley which is much deeper, but our universe is preventing from falling into it by a large energy barrier.
The problem is that the results predict that the universe would have received large 'kicks' during the cosmic inflation phase, pushing it into the other valley of the Higgs field within a fraction of a second. If that had happened, the universe would have quickly collapsed in a Big Crunch.
"This is an unacceptable prediction of the theory because if this had happened we wouldn't be around to discuss it" said Robert Hogan, a PhD student at King's College London, who led the study.
Perhaps the results contain an error. If not, there must be some other -- as yet unknown -- process which prevented the universe from collapsing.
"If is shown to be correct, it tells us that there has to be interesting new particle physics beyond the standard model" Hogan said.
And the process goes on.
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Story Source: Materials provided by Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). "Should the Higgs boson have caused our universe to collapse? Findings puzzle cosmologists." ScienceDaily.