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Should the Higgs boson have caused our Universe to collapse?

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 08:44
Published on Friday, 20 June 2014 16:09

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. Robert Hogan of King's College London (KCL) will present the new research on 24 June at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth.

Hogan figure 1 smallThe BICEP2 telescope in Antarctica, seen at twilight. The telescope has led to significant new results on the early universe. The Keck Array telescope and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station can be seen in the background. Credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University. Click for a larger version.

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 from the BICEP2 collaboration 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 from KCL have investigated what the BICEP2 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.

Hogan figure 2Our Universe lies in a ‘valley’, which sets the behaviour of the Higgs boson. A deeper valley also exists, but our Universe is prevented from entering it by a large ‘hill’. During the early period of cosmic inflation, the BICEP2 results imply that the Universe would have received a ‘kick’ into the other valley, causing it to collapse in less than a second. Credit: Robert Hogan, Kings College LondonThe problem is that the BICEP2 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 Hogan, who is a PhD student at KCL and led the study.

Perhaps the BICEP2 results contain an error. If not, there must be some other – as yet unknown – process which prevented the universe from collapsing.

"If BICEP2 is shown to be correct, it tells us that there has to be interesting new particle physics beyond the standard model" Hogan said.

 

Media contacts

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Science contact

Robert Hogan
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Images and captions

http://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/NAM/2014/Hogan_figure_1.jpg
The BICEP2 telescope in Antarctica, seen at twilight. The telescope has led to significant new results on the early universe. The Keck Array telescope and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station can be seen in the background. Credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University

http://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/NAM/2014/Hogan_figure_2.png
Our Universe lies in a 'valley', which sets the behaviour of the Higgs boson. A deeper valley also exists, but our Universe is prevented from entering it by a large 'hill'. During the early period of cosmic inflation, the BICEP2 results imply that the Universe would have received a 'kick' into the other valley, causing it to collapse in less than a second. Credit: Robert Hogan, Kings College London

 

Further information

This research has been published in Fairbairn & Hogan, 2014, Physical Review Letters 112, p201801. A preprint is available on the arXiv server.

 

Notes for editors

The RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2014) will bring together more than 600 astronomers, space scientists and solar physicists for a conference running from 23 to 26 June in Portsmouth. NAM 2014, the largest regular professional astronomy event in the UK, will be held in conjunction with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP), Magnetosphere Ionosphere Solar-Terrestrial physics (MIST) and UK Cosmology (UKCosmo) meetings. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the University of Portsmouth. Meeting arrangements and a full and up to date schedule of the scientific programme can be found on the official website and via Twitter.

The University of Portsmouth is a top-ranking university in a student-friendly waterfront city. It's in the top 50 universities in the UK, in The Guardian University Guide League Table 2014 and is ranked in the top 400 universities in the world, in the most recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013. Research at the University of Portsmouth is varied and wide ranging, from pure science – such as the evolution of galaxies and the study of stem cells – to the most technologically applied subjects – such as computer games design. Our researchers collaborate with colleagues worldwide, and with the public, to develop new insights and make a difference to people's lives. Follow the University of Portsmouth on Twitter.

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3800 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others. Follow the RAS on Twitter.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security. The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar. It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities for example in the area of astronomy, the European Southern Observatory. Follow STFC on Twitter.