The vacuum that will devour the Earth

15Aug06

The scientific content of this post is due to ‘Chris at Berkeley,’ who prefers to ‘remain mysterious’ rather than have his name printed.


Artist’s rendition of the threat.

I just had a very entertaining conversation with fellow UCB first year Chris, who described some theories where our universe sits in a metastable ground state that breaks supersymmetry. In such theories, it’s possible for finite volumes of space to tunnel to the supersymmetric global ground state.

At this point I objected because I had the impression that tunneling couldn’t occur in the vacuum states of quantum field theory since the tunneling probability goes to zero due to the infinite amount of energy required to force an infinite volume of fields to tunnel. However, in this case only a finite volume of space tunnels.

Anyhow, Chris noted that this is a particularly dangerous thing, since the domain wall of such a vaccum bubble would be held at an incredibly large energy (due to the potential difference with the boundary as well as derivative terms). The supersymmetric universe within the bubble might not be hospitable to stable atoms, let alone human life, either, as SUSY interactions may cause proton decay.

Thankfully, the tremendous energy of the boundary further lowers the probability that such bubbles might form and would even provide an inward pressure. However, since volume and surface area scale as different powers of characteristic length, there is a critical size at which it is energetically favorable for a bubble to expand rather than shrink. Such a bubble may go on and inflate to devour the entire universe in an armageddon that would leave the cosmos in a new supersymmetric state.

So there you have it, another way that life as we know it may end. Someone tell Fox news.



One Response to “The vacuum that will devour the Earth”

  1. 1 Chris at Berkeley

    Not only the potential difference and derivative terms, but the actual value of the potential at the center of the domain walls would be very high. This is because, presumably, the potential barrier between the meta-stable state and the supersymmetric ground state must be very high in order for the meta-stable state to be stable for the age of the universe or greater. So watch out.



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