If calculations of the newly discovered Higgs boson particle are correct, one day, tens of billions of years from now, the universe will disappear at the speed of light, replaced by a strange, alternative dimension, one theoretical physicist calls "boring."
Scientists last year announced they had discovered what appeared to be the long-sought subatomic particle that accounts for how matter gets its mass.
Analysis is ongoing to fully characterize the particle, known as the Higgs boson, and its related daughter, grand-daughter and cousin particles, all of which are needed to assure scientists that they've truly found what was once pure theory.
"It sounds too easy -- a particle with no spin and no charge. Like you made it up and yet there it is," theoretical physicist Joseph Lykken, with the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., told Discovery News.
So far, scientists have found nothing to indicate that the particle discovered last year at Europe's Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, is not the Higgs boson with a mass of about 126 billion electron volts. It turns out that's a critical number when it comes to the fate of the universe.
"If you use all the physics that we know now and you do what you think is a straightforward calculation, it's bad news," said Lykken, who also serves on the LHC science team.
"It may be that 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. This has to do with the Higgs energy field itself," Lykken added, referring to an invisible field of energy that is believed to exist throughout the universe.
The calculation requires knowing the mass of the Higgs to one percent, as well as the precise mass of other related subatomic particles.
"It's right along the critical line," said physicist Christopher Hill, also with Fermi.
"That could either be a cosmic coincidence, or it could be that there's some physics that's causing that," Hill said.
Any life forms still around when the universe ends won't have to worry about what's coming -- it will unfold at light speed.
"You won't actually see it because it will come at you at the speed of light and that's it, so don't worry. We know the universe is pretty stable because it's been around for 13.5 billion years, so even before we did this calculation we knew that.
"This calculation tells you that many tens of billions of years from now there'll be a catastrophe," Lykken said.
"Essentially, the universe wants to be in different state and so eventually it will realize that. A little bubble of what you might think of an as alternative universe will appear somewhere and then it will expand out and destroy us. So that'll be very dramatic, but you and I will not be around to witness it," Lykken told reporters before a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston this week.
"There will be a new universe, a much more boring universe, so I hope this doesn't happen," he added.