Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 74: Mar-Apr 1991

Issue Contents

Other pages











Repent! the phase change is coming!

The world as we know it may not end in a nuclear holocaust or even in the greenhouse effect. Rather, suggest M. M. Grone and M. Sher, the universe-as-a-whole may undergo a phase change. Such an event has already happened once and it may again. Approximately 10-10 seconds after the Big Bang, the force laws changed discontinuously as the universe cooled. Some models of the cosmos predict that another such phase change may occur when photons suddenly acquire mass. Grone and Sher have sketched the effects on terrestrial civilization:

"The most dramatic effect would be the elimination of all static electric and magnetic fields over a range greater than 1 cm, and the elimination of all electromagnetic radiation with frequencies smaller than a few hundred gigahertz. We have shown that there would be relatively little impact on atomic structure and on solar radiation. The absence of electrostatic fields would force a redesign of current power plants (to use smaller solenoids); the absence of radio and television waves would force a much greater use of cables. The elimination of solar and geomagnetic fields would have a significant meteorological impact. The potential ly most devastating effect could be on the propagation of neural impulse along motor neurons; it appears that the effects might be small, but they do depend on the precise value of the photon mass."

Crone and Sher conclude that the effect would be devastating to humanity but probably not fatal. (Crone, Mary M., and Sher, Marc; "The Environmental Impact of Vacuum Decay," American Journal of Physics, 59:25, 1991.)

Comment. No TV; now that is fatal!

From Science Frontiers #74, MAR-APR 1991. 1991-2000 William R. Corliss