The idea is that even empty space could break. Sorry, there's no way of talking about this which doesn't sound like a 17-year-old goth after a bad breakup. (Note: All goth breakups are bad breakups, but that's good gothing, so it's hard to say if it's good or bad.) We think an empty vacuum is the lowest energy state of existence. But if there is another, lower-energy state below it, then our entire reality is thin ice over a frozen lake. Just one puncture would cause the whole thing to sink. An entirely new universe would radiate from the reality fracture point, known as a "vacuum metastability event".
But, uh, light probably wouldn't even exist after that, so here's another picture of that explosion.
Since even changes in the laws of physics have to travel at lightspeed (they have to obey the laws until they replace them), we wouldn't even see it coming before it hit. And we wouldn't exist afterwards. We could lose all that exists if even the darkness between our stars is only false vacuum (there is NOTHING more goth than physics). The multiple-universe version of the idea is even more fun: It says that existence is a bubble bath of entire universes constantly popping out of existence, and at any moment, ours is just one which hasn't yet chaotically annihilated itself. Yet.
This thought sounds like it was screamed from a street corner rather than developed in a lab. But it's been tested by the most advanced machinery ever made. When the Large Hadron Collider found the mass of the Higgs boson, we were able to calculate whether our universe is stable. And the answer is ... "-ish." The required minimum Higgs mass for "Universe NOT popping like an old birthday balloon" is 129.8 GeV. The measured Higgs Boson mass is 125 GeV.
Please take a moment with this more relaxing measurement.
But in physics, a number without error bars is a knife without a handle. The error bars on that minimum mass are plus or minus 5.6 GeV, so the safe value should be somewhere between 124.2 and 135.4 GeV. We've measured 125.1, plus or minus about 0.2 GeV. So what that confusing mess of gibberish-sounding numbers means is ... we're, uh, maybe okay? At the outer edges of probably not disappearing? To narrow down those existential error bars, we need to make better measurements of something called the top quark pole mass. Listen: Just pretend The Doctor or Data said that and accept it. We're working on it.
In the meantime, what's a little "reality randomly shattering without warning" between friends? Look at it this way: The next time you're wondering whether to enjoy another donut or beer, physics says YES.
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