Why Are We Still Here?

The BICEP2 telescope in Antarctica has led to significant new results on the early universe. Photo: Steffen Richter, Harvard University.

British cosmologists are puzzled: We, and our entire universe, shouldn’t exist. Our universe should have blinked out of existence an instant after it was first created.

According to a new study done by cosmologists at King’s College London (KCL), our universe shouldn’t have lasted for more than a second after the Big Bang if we follow the rules of the Standard Model (suggested by the Higgs boson that was tracked down in 2012), along with recent astronomical observations. The British study combines the latest Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation (BICEP2)  telescope observations with the properties of the Higgs boson studied in the CMS and ATLAS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. The KCL team analyzed what these BICEP2’s observations, combined with the information gleaned by particle physics from the Higgs boson, would mean for the stability of our universe, and concluded that we are not supposed to exist today. These startling results are not yet widely accepted by cosmologists, but if proven right, it confirms the inflation theory  and it would mean a big leap in science’s understanding of our universe.

In March this year, scientists discovered that there are still gravitational energy waves detectable on the cosmic microwave background, caused by the rapid expansion of our universe after the ‘Big Bang’. This phenomenon, also known as cosmic inflation, suggests the existence of multiple universes.

By studying the Higgs boson, physicists claimed 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 this field that is much deeper, but our universe is saved from tipping into it by a large energy barrier. The BICEP2’s results predict that our 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, causing our nascent universe to collapse in an instant.

Obviously this is an unacceptable prediction of the theory because if this had happened, there wouldn’t be anybody around to wonder about it today. So could the findings of the BICEP2 study be incorrect? BICEP2 researchers did concede a possibility in their study that the findings were actually influenced by polarization effects generated by nearby dust in our galaxy, but aside from such a possible error, the only option to explain why we are still here 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,” explains Robert Hogan, the Ph.D. student at KCL who led the study.



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