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Glasgow 2001 Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Universe 'could condense into jelly'
Space BBC
By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

The Universe may be in a state where matter could disintegrate at any moment, a scientist has warned.

But the probability is less than that of buying two lottery tickets in the same week that both win the lottery, said Dr Benjamin Allanach of the European laboratory for particle physics, Cern, in Geneva, Switzerland.

"The fact that the Universe has existed for 15 billion years should tell you it's not likely to happen tomorrow," he told the British Association Festival of Science in Glasgow. "The probability of it happening is tiny."

The idea behind such a catastrophic possibility is supersymmetry. This theory of the Universe states that every particle that makes up matter has a heavier ghostly partner that has similar but not identical properties.

If true, current data implies that the Universe must be perched on an unstable vacuum and "could suddenly condense into 'jelly' and cause this catastrophe", said Dr Allanach.

Ghostly particle

The danger is that a jelly of the ghostly partner of the quark could form spontaneously at any moment, changing the laws of physics of the whole Universe.

Light would stop shining, electricity would no longer work and the matter that makes up us, the Earth and the stars would disintegrate to form a different kind of matter, said Dr Allanach.

This disaster scenario caused some initial nightmares, he said. But further calculations showed that the probability of it actually happening was miniscule, even in a time as long as the age of our Universe.

The actual probability is one in 13 million squared, he said.

See also:

10 Feb 00 | Science/Nature
08 Nov 00 | Science/Nature
Links to more Glasgow 2001 stories are at the foot of the page.


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