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British cosmologists are puzzled: they predict that the Universe should not have lasted for more than a second. This startling conclusion is the result of combining the latest observations of the sky with the recent discovery of the Higgs boson. Robert Hogan of King's College London (KCL) will present the new research on 24 June at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth.

After the Universe began in the Big Bang, it is thought to have gone through a short period of rapid expansion known as 'cosmic inflation'. Although the details of this process are not yet fully understood, cosmologists have been able to make predictions of how this would affect the Universe we see today.

In March 2014, researchers from the BICEP2 collaboration claimed to have detected one of these predicted effects. If true, their results are a major advance in our understanding of cosmology and a confirmation of the inflation theory, but they have proven controversial and are not yet fully accepted by cosmologists.

In the new research, scientists from KCL have investigated what the BICEP2 observations mean for the stability of the Universe. To do this, they combined the results with recent advances in particle physics. The detection of the Higgs boson by the Large Hadron Collider was announced in July 2012; since then, much has been learnt about its properties.

Measurements of the Higgs boson have allowed particle physicists to show that our universe sits in a valley of the 'Higgs field', which describes the way that other particles have mass. However, there is a different valley which is much deeper, but our universe is preventing from falling into it by a large energy barrier.

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