In the summer of 2012, researchers at CERN announced that they had confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson. This subatomic particle supports the Standard Model of particle physics and helps explain the building blocks of the Universe on a very fundamental level through the existence of the Higgs field. Robert Hogan and Malcolm Fairbairn of King’s College in London have explored the larger implications of the existence of the Higgs boson and have determined that the Universe should have destabilized and collapsed within microseconds of forming. Their work was presented today (June 24) at the Royal Astronomical Society meeting in England. The paper was published in Physical Review Letters though has also been posted in an open access format on arXiv.org.
Just after the Big Bang, a period known as cosmic inflation is believed to have occurred, in which the Universe grew exponentially in a fraction of a second. This would have created ripples throughout the fabric of space, known as gravitational waves. These waves would have also affected radiation throughout the Universe. A research group using the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP2) announced in March that they had detected evidence of these gravitational waves for the first time, but later admitted it could have been dust from the Milky Way and not direct evidence of cosmic inflation after all.
In addition to the presence of gravity in the early Universe, there was also the Higgs field. This field isn’t a force like gravity and doesn’t accelerate particles or transfer energy, but it does interact with particles to give them mass. We can’t detect the Higgs field directly, but we can detect the Higgs boson, which is kind of like a mediator between particles and the field. The rapid expansion of the Universe should have caused a quantum fluctuation, which would have disturbed the Higgs field, creating a lower energy state that would have forced the Universe to collapse. And yet, here we are.
In order to explain the survival of the Universe in the face of that certain death, the authors “present two possible cures: a direct coupling between the Higgs field and the inflation and a nonzero temperature from dissipation during inflation.” The only problem with this explanation is that it involves the use of physics and particles that don’t currently exist in any theories. Minor detail, right?
Of course, this model implicating the Higgs field as the destroyer of the Universe is based on current theories regarding cosmic inflation. If the BICEP2 team does turn out to be mistaken in its findings or if new information is added to the theory of cosmic inflation, it could very well be that the Higgs field was never in danger of causing Universal collapse after all. This issue will take a great deal of further study on many fronts before any resolution will be made.