Professor Stephen Hawking says the Higgs boson, also known as "the God particle," could become unstable and make the universe collapse on itself.
"The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100bn gigaelectronvolts (GeV)," Hawking says in the preface for his new book, "Starmus," which is due out next month, reports The Sunday Times in London
. "This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time, and we wouldn’t see it coming."
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The famed theoretical physicist admits that the scenario is highly unlikely, but even the possibility of the collapse brings new factors to physics.
The Times reports that scientists may fear that Hawking's comments could shock taxpayers into not wanting to fund particle accelerator experiments.
During those experiments, scientists use magnetic and electric fields to push subatomic particles to near light speeds before crashing them together to measure energy levels, speeds, and angles. Other scientists may be concerned at Hawking’s comments, not because he is wrong but for fear it might alarm the taxpaying public, which funds their experiments.
The process in 2012 led to the discovery in Cern of the Higgs boson, which was nicknamed the "God particle," predicted first by British physicist Peter Higgs in the 1960s. The particle, along with its "Higgs field," are believed to be what gives matter mass.
Scientists say that without the Higgs boson, particles would zip around the cosmos and be unable to bind together to form the atoms that make stars, planets, and life.
Hawking says there is little danger that the universe could collapse, because even though more powerful particle colliders are being built, the largest and most powerful one would be far below what he says could destabilize the Higgs field.
"A particle accelerator that reaches 100bn GeV would be larger than Earth, and is unlikely to be funded in the present economic climate," Hawking writes in his book's preface.
But still, if the Higgs boson can destabilize, "it places important constraints on the evolution of the universe," said Hawking.
Cern theoretical physicist John Ellis said Hawking's suggestions about Higgs are correct, and while it's "not an issue of risk" it still suggests that "there is new physics yet to be discovered."
"One thing should be made clear," Ellis told The Times. "The discovery of the Higgs boson at the LHC did not cause this problem, and collisions at the LHC could not trigger the instability, because their energies are far too low."
This isn't the first time Hawking has presented a doomsday scenario, reports CNet
. In 2010, in his Discovery Channel documentary "Stephen Hawking's Universe," he claimed that an encounter with space aliens could also be disastrous, saying that "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."
He has also warned that artificial intelligence technology is learning to think
for itself, creating an uncertain future for humanity.
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