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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Wendy Wippel

Astrophysicists have had a rough couple of decades. COBE satellite data, in 1993, pretty much proved that the “eternal” universe posited by Aristotle (one that conveniently negated a need for a creator) actually had a beginning. Now physics is proving that it will also have an end. And from a surprising source: Catastrophic Vacuum Decay.

The current universe, according to astrophysicists (as gleaned from recent experiments) is one that is “metastable”.  Meaning “long-lived but not absolutely stable”. What determines the stability of the universe apparently is the mass of the Higgs Boson particle (otherwise known as the God particle) which had only recently been shown to definitively exist. Astrophysicists recently announced that the mass of the Higgs Boson particle, after much work, had been calculated to be about 126 electron volts. And this was kind of a shock.

Why?  Because the mass of the Higgs Boson particle, at 126 volts, puts our universe squarely on a very thin line between stability and total destruction.

According to Joseph Lykken, theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside Chicago, “it turns out we're right on the edge between a stable universe and an unstable universe…We're sort of right on the edge where the universe can last for a long time, but eventually it should go “boom”. 

And when the universe does go “boom”, the scientists say, it will proceed (because of the fine-tuned mass of the Higgs Boson particle) according to a mysterious phenomenon called catastrophic vacuum decay.

Otherwise known as a quantum bubble.

According to the theory, the universe we live in now is a “false vacuum” defined as a reality that appears stable but which may be disrupted and, as a consequence, topple in to a lower, more stable state called a “true vacuum”. And that’s what the Higgs Boson measurements recently made suggest that our universe now exists within a false vacuum of this kind, and that implies that someday, a true vacuum will “nucleate” (which simply means "form") and destroy it.

This is where I should let you know that the astrophysical definition of a false vacuum is a universe that has things in it (even energy), while a true vacuum is one that is at a zero state—no energy or anything else there.

Basically, what they are saying is that “nothingness” would overtake us and destroy all that we know. And the “nothingness” that overtakes the universe and destroys it is called the quantum bubble.

In the scientists own words, “this could theoretically occur at any time or place in the universe, which means (because the bubble of "true vacuum" will expand at the speed of light) the end of such a false vacuum could occur at any time”. Further, according to the scientists, “a bubble of lower-energy vacuum could come to exist by chance or otherwise in our universe”, driving a “conversion of our universe to a lower energy state in a volume expanding at nearly the speed of light, destroying all that we know without forewarning”.

What do they define as a possible “otherwise”?  I have no idea. They don’t say.

But I don’t think it’s by chance.

And what they say next about the quantum bubble is really interesting:  

When the quantum bubble (otherwise known as the catastrophic vacuum decay) destroys this universe (by chance or otherwise), it will be because all that we see around us (from planes, trains, and automobiles to lions and tigers and bears, including event the particles and forces that they are made of) arise from a foundation of the quantum fields that are believed to be the fabric of our universe.

Remember that our universe has been determined (by the measured value of the Higgs Boson particle), to be one that is seemingly stable, but one which is vulnerable to being disrupted.  And when (since our universe is scientifically slated to at some point go “boom”) that more stable vacuum state comes into being (by chance or otherwise), than different particles and forces will be created by that quantum field. 

And according to the scientists, when the quantum bubble hits, all of our old forces and particles will pass away. Atomic nuclei would disintegrate and atoms (the basis of matter) would cease to exist.  But since the world we live in is based on those particles and forces, the quantum bubble, with the destruction of the old forces and particles, the old will be reconstituted into new subatomic particles, fundamental forces, heavenly bodies, solar systems and galaxies. All of the present building blocks and structures in our own universe will be lost, and a new universe, by definition not based on matter, as we know it, will become inhabited by new ones.

By now, most of you, I think, are probably thinking what I’m thinking.  A temporary universe, destroyed?  A destruction of that unstable universe that will include even the elements dissolving away?  A new heavens and a new earth, created from scratch that will be eternal?  (Cause they are stable?) 

 Doesn’t it seem like we have heard something like this before?

Like maybe, II Peter 3:10?

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.”

And Isaiah 65:17?

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.

Joseph Lykken, at a meeting earlier this month, observed that, “There's no principle that we know of that would put us right on the edge” and that “the bubble might be on its way here now, and you won't know because it's going at the speed of light so there's not going to be any warning."

What did Peter say above? That “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night?”

Lykken assured his audience, however, that there was no real reason to worry: "Most likely it will take 10 100 years [1 followed by 100 zeroes] for this to happen”, he said.

Maybe. But I think Otherwise.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Dreams and Dogma

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