The unfathomable mystery of how this Universe was brought forth into being has preoccupied the mind of Man since he became cognisant of his own existence. Latterly, Science has been able to provide the likely cosmic nuts and bolts of the process, with the most widely accepted concept being known as the "Big Bang" theory.
Though the name implies a huge detonation, the "Big Bang" was more of an expansion than an explosion, an expansion that is still continuing today, but recent research suggests that if this type of event had indeed created the Universe then, theoretically, it should not exist at all.
The question has now evolved from "How was the Universe formed?" into "How does it exist at all?"as simulations conducted by a new study now indicate that the universe should have collapsed almost immediately after the Big Bang occurred.
"During the early universe, we expected cosmic inflation — this is a rapid expansion of the universe right after the Big Bang," said study co-author Robert Hogan, a doctoral candidate in physics at King's College in London. "This expansion causes lots of stuff to shake around, and if we shake it too much, we could go into this new energy space, which could cause the universe to collapse."
During the process of cosmic inflation space-time is pushed out of shape creating gravitational waves that contorted the radiation that passed through the universe. These waves have been detected by the BICEP2 telescope near the South Pole, but the theory of cosmic inflation is far from proven and some suggest that the telescope is merely detecting signals from cosmic dust floating throughout space.
In the new study, Hogan and his colleague at King's college, fellow physicist Malcom Fairbairn, tried to illustrate how cosmic inflation might work to create the universe after the Big Bang scenario. They used a model based around the properties of the Higgs boson particle, a newcomer on the quantum block that is a manifestation of the Higgs field energy field that pervades throughout the universe and which potentially explains how other particles gain mass, along with the measurement of the original gravitational waves from cosmic inflation.
The results were not quite what they were expecting. The newly formed universe should have been subjected to powerful shakes that would have destabilized the Higgs field, downgrading the energy levels until the it inevitably imploded and collapsed.
But if this model is correct, then what happened to circumvent the inevitable collapse and allow the universe to remain?
"We are here talking about it," Hogan told Live Science. "That means we have to extend our theories to explain why this didn't happen.
"The generic expectation is that there must be some new physics that we haven't put in our theories yet, because we haven't been able to discover them," he added.
Since the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle a couple of years ago, there have been numerous hypotheses that have deemed it an unstable influence that could eventually lead to the cataclysmic demise of the cosmos in a few billion years. The mass of the Higgs boson, which is approximately 126 times that of the proton, puts it right on the outer limits of universal stability. If it was a fraction lighter then things would get a little more unstable; a little heavier, and the Higgs field would be a solid as a rock.
"This calculation tells you that many tens of billions of years from now there'll be a catastrophe," explained Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia. "It may be the universe we live in is inherently unstable, and at some point billions of years from now it's all going to get wiped out."
Of course, the "Big Bang" theory is not the only theory to explain the birth of our Universe, it is merely the most popular.
Astrophysicist George F. R. Ellis explains:
"People need to be aware that there is a range of models that could explain the observations….For instance, I can construct you a spherically symmetrical universe with Earth at its center, and you cannot disprove it based on observations….You can only exclude it on philosophical grounds. In my view there is absolutely nothing wrong in that. What I want to bring into the open is the fact that we are using philosophical criteria in choosing our models. A lot of cosmology tries to hide that."
It could be that scientists do not yet understand the level of physics that brought the cosmos into being, and such scientific uncertainties inevitably re-introduce a higher power into the creation equation, as indicated in most of the world's religions.
So perhaps we should again be asking not "What?" created the universe, but "Who?".
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