Here’s how the universe could end in a a ‘false vacuum decay’

This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, however with a quantum vacuum decay of the floor state of the universe to its true minimal.

The universe underwent radical section transitions in the previous. These transitions ultimately led to the division of the four fundamental forces of nature and the panoply of particles we all know at the moment. All of that occurred when the universe was lower than a second previous, and it has been steady ever since.

But it may not final ceaselessly.

Our universe: Big Bang to now in 10 easy steps

A divided cosmos

To perceive the stability of the universe, first we have to speak about section transitions. Phase transitions are when a substance undergoes a speedy, radical transformation. They occur all the time. You boil water, and it transforms from a liquid into a gas. You cool that very same water, and it turns into a block of ice.

Perhaps the most unique section transitions are those who occur to quantum fields. Quantum fields are the basic constructing blocks of the universe. Every type of particle — say, a photon or an electron — is de facto simply a native manifestation of an underlying discipline. That discipline soaks all of space and time like bread dipped in olive oil. The way these fields work together and talk with one another makes up the forces and physics of our existence.

That existence is predicated on 4 basic forces: gravity, the weak pressure, electromagnetism and the robust pressure. But it hasn’t at all times been this way. In the earliest moments of the cosmos, these forces had been united. As the universe expanded and cooled, the quantum fields underwent section transitions, splitting aside one after the other.

The final section transition occurred when the electromagnetic pressure break up from the weak pressure. That splitting gave rise to the photon and the W and Z bosons, the carriers of these two forces.

Since that occasion, which occurred when the universe wasn’t even a second previous, every part’s been steady — no extra splitting, no extra section transitions. The 4 forces of nature went on to form and sculpt the evolution of the cosmos for billions of years.

As far as every part appears to be like, it is all steady — for now, anyway.

Related: Is there anything beyond the universe?

Not so steady in spite of everything

The stability of the universe is hard to measure. Sure, it has been over 13 billion years since something as attention-grabbing as a section transition has occurred. Yes, 13 billion years is a actually very long time, however in the world of quantum fields, something can occur.

Our finest guess at probing the stability of the universe is thru the mass of the Higgs boson. The Higgs is a very attention-grabbing discipline; its presence in the universe is what separated the electromagnetic pressure from the weak pressure and what maintains that break up at the moment. Without the Higgs boson, these forces would merge proper again collectively.

In quantum physics, the extra huge an entity is, the extra unstable it’s. Massive particles shortly decay into lighter ones, for instance. So, if the Higgs could be very huge, it may not be as steady because it appears, and it would decay into one thing else sometime. But if the Higgs is mild sufficient, it is doubtless to hang around ceaselessly, and there is nothing extra to say about the way forward for the quantum fields of the universe.

Measurements of the Higgs have discovered that its mass places the universe smack in between the “really, honestly stable” and “Oh no, it looks a little unstable” regimes. Physicists name this state “metastable” — a state of affairs that’s steady for now however could shortly deteriorate if one thing had been to go flawed.

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Searching for stability

The obvious metastability of the quantum fields of the universe is a little unsettling. Although it could imply that the universe could persist for billions, even trillions, of years with out something going flawed in any respect, it could additionally imply that the universe is already starting to remodel. All it will take is one little shake in the flawed path, in some random patch of the universe, the place the Higgs falls aside and the underlying quantum fields discover a new, extra steady configuration. That area of “new” universe would then propagate outward at practically the speed of light by way of the “old” universe.

This type of section transition known as a “false vacuum decay.” It references the concept that the vacuum of our universe is a “false” one — it’s not as steady as it would seem, and it’ll sometime decay into one thing new.

By the time we obtained any info that the section transition was upon us, it will already be occurring.

What can be on the different facet of that new universe? It’s inconceivable to say. It may be completely mundane, with the new quantum fields trying precisely like the previous quantum fields and nothing amiss. It could be simply a slight adjustment, like a little tuning to the nature of dark energy or a slight adjustment to the plenty of neutrinos. Or, it could be radically completely different, with a universe full of brand-new forces, fields and particles — which might make life (and chemistry and atomics) as we all know it inconceivable.

Of course, we’re not even 100% certain about the metastability criterion. We know that the Standard Model of particle physics is incomplete. An entire model could rewrite our understanding of quantum fields and the place the “stable-unstable” line is drawn.

Learn extra by listening to the “Ask A Spaceman” podcast, obtainable on iTunes and Ask your personal query on Twitter utilizing #AskASpaceman or by following Paul @PaulMattSutter and

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