None of us should be here. In fact, the whole world, the stars and the galaxies shouldn’t be here either – according to a new cosmological study, our whole Universe should have blinked out of existence an instant after it was first created.
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Research from British cosmologists at King’s College London (KCL) suggests that the Universe shouldn’t have lasted for more than a second after the Big Bang, according to the Standard Model that’s suggested by the Higgs boson seen in 2012 along with recent astronomical observations.
After the Universe began in the Big Bang, it is theorised that it went through a short period of rapid expansion known as cosmic inflation. The Universe is still expanding today, but at a rather sedate pace astronomically-speaking. In the inflationary period, matter was flung outward at an exponential rate in all directions, rippling space-time into waves of gravitational energy as it went.
This theory explains a number of features of the Universe, including the fact that it seems to be the same in all directions, is flat and has evenly distributed cosmic microwave background radiation. Although scientists don’t fully understand the whole process of inflation, they’re still able to make predictions about how it should make the Universe today look.
Presenting to the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting, KCL’s Robert Hogan outlined the research, which combines the latest observations of the sky with the properties of the particle seen by the CMS and ATLAS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider to come up with the slightly discomfiting conclusion that we shouldn’t exist.
In March this year, scientists using one of the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation (BICEP2) telescopes claimed to have detected one of the predicted effects of cosmic inflation on the Universe today. They believe they have picked up on the very faint signal that the gravitational energy waves left on the cosmic microwave background, known as B-mode polarisation.
The results have proved controversial and have yet to be accepted by cosmologists, but if proven right, they would confirm the inflation theory and hugely advance science’s understanding of the Universe.
Looking into the results, the KCL team analysed what BICEP2’s observations would mean for the stability of the Universe by combining the data with information gleaned by particle physics from the Higgs boson.
Measuring that particle has allowed physicists to show that our Universe is sitting in a valley of the “Higgs field”, which is part of the mechanism that gives mass to particles. However, there is another theoretical valley in the field that is much deeper, but our Universe is saved from tipping into it by a large energy barrier.
The problem with BICEP2’s results is that they predict that the Universe would have received large jolts during the cosmic inflation phase, which would have pushed it into the other valley of the Higgs field within a fraction of a second. And that would have collapsed the entire nascent Universe in a Big Crunch.
“null ” said Hogan, who is a PhD student at KCL and led the study.
It’s possible that BICEP2’s findings were actually caused by similar polarisation effects that can be generated by nearby dust in our own galaxy, a point that the researchers conceded was possible in their study.
Aside from an error like this in the BICEP2 results, the only option to explain why we’re still around to wonder about the origins of the Universe is if there is some other process going on that scientists have yet to discover.
“If BICEP2 is shown to be correct, it tells us that there has to be interesting new particle physics beyond the Standard Model,” Hogan explained.