Experts warn of 'black wave' that could sweep universe and end life

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The earth is at risk from the universe suddenly turning "inside-out", causing human life to be extinguished at the speed of light, experts said yesterday.

The earth is at risk from the universe suddenly turning "inside-out", causing human life to be extinguished at the speed of light, experts said yesterday.

Dr Benjamin Allanach, from the particle physics laboratory at CERN in Geneva, warned of the prospect of a "black wave" sweeping over the world.

"The universe would suddenly and spontaneously swap from its present state into one where the electric force would turn off, and it would all become dark," he said.

The switch would be from our present state to one predicted in the theory of "supersymmetry", which states that every normal matter particle has a heavier counterpart.

It is theoretically possible that, at any point in the vacuum of the universe, such a swap could happen and spread like a rip in the fabric of matter, swapping every particle to its heavier counterpart and sucking up energy.

However, Dr Allanach said the universe had lasted 15 billion years and the prospect of the phenomenon was one in 169 million million or the equivalent of winning two consecutive lotteries.

Scientists have worked out how to stop asteroids from destroying the Earth. But Britain is doing little to chart this possible doomsday scenario, so the likelihood of a huge piece of rocky cosmic litter striking the Earth is just as likely as when it happened to the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Dr Duncan Steel, of the University of Salford, said methods to prevent an asteroid strike had been devised but enough warning had to be given to prepare nuclear weapons to divert it away from Earth.

However, Britain is not carrying out any observation of "near-Earth objects", and no organisation is watching the skies in the southern hemisphere from where a civilisation-destroying object more than 500 metres across could fall.

That will probably not happen this century. But Dr Steel said that in terms of the potential benefit compared to its cost, the project should have the highest priority. "We check for bombs on planes not because there are lots of bombs but because the consequences are catastrophic," he said.

Without such measures, the first we might know of an asteroid impact on the other side of the Earth would be earthquakes, followed 45 minutes after the impact by hot rocks raining down from the sky.

"The impact of a one-kilometre asteroid would set the Earth ringing like a bell, with quakes all over," said Dr Steel.

The biggest problems, in which up to half of humanity would be wiped out, would be the poisoning of the atmosphere by the nitrous oxides created in the impact.

Comments