Of the many alternative ways the universe might end, nothing is as scary as "false vacuum decay". This scenario is based on the idea that a fundamental field in the universe is not at its lowest possible state. Under that “false” stable region, our own universe has grown. The field might spontaneously jump into a more stable value, creating a bubble that wipes out all reality.
We don’t know enough about the field in question – the Higgs field that gives mass to everything – to know how likely this is as a possibility. False vacuum decay is when a not-stable state turns into a true stable state, though In general, there’s a lot we don't understand about how this bubble formation works, especially experimentally. Now, a group of Italian experimentalists and British theoreticians have produced the first experimental evidence of vacuum decay.
"Vacuum decay is thought to play a central role in the creation of space, time, and matter in the Big Bang, but until now there has been no experimental test," explained Ian Moss, Professor of Theoretical Cosmology at Newcastle University. "In particle physics, vacuum decay of the Higgs boson would alter the laws of physics, producing what has been described as the 'ultimate ecological catastrophe'."
The team's goal is to push the temperature of the system closer and closer to absolute zero. Under those conditions, the thermal effects will become less relevant but the quantum effects should appear, delivering a more accurate analogous to the false vacuum decay.
The study is published in Nature Physics.