Stephen Hawking: The Higgs Boson Could Destroy the Universe Any Minute Now

Monday, 08 September 2014 - 11:00AM
Astrophysics
Physics
Monday, 08 September 2014 - 11:00AM
Stephen Hawking: The Higgs Boson Could Destroy the Universe Any Minute Now

The 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson, or inaptly-named "God particle," was a major breakthrough in our understanding of the universe, as it confirmed prevailing theories explaining how particles obtain matter. But now, world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is claiming that it might also explain how our universe will meet its grisly end.

 

In the preface to Starmus, a book about the first Starmus festival in 2011, Hawking expressed his concerns about the Higgs's inherent instability, and the potential for catastrophe if it ever reaches extremely high energies. He asserts that under these circumstances, the universe could experience "catastrophic vacuum decay," or essentially that the universe may be become one giant vacuum: "The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100bn gigaelectronvolts (GeV). This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light."

 

But most frighteningly, this could theoretically occur at any time: "This could happen at any time and we wouldn't see it coming," Hawking explained.

 

That being said, while it is theoretically possible, it's not exactly likely to happen anytime soon: "A particle accelerator that reaches 100bn GeV would be larger than Earth, and is unlikely to be funded in the present economic climate," he said.

 

The Higgs boson is a particle with no spin or charge that is predicted by the existence of the Higgs field. The Higgs field was hypothesized to explain how particles are first afforded matter; a field that has a constant value almost everywhere in the Universe and breaks certain symmetry laws in order to give mass to particles that pass through it. While it was first theorized as early as the 1960s, its existence was not experimentally confirmed until 2012. 

 

Hawking has a complex relationship with the Higgs boson. In the aftermath of its discovery in 2012, Hawking reportedly claimed that "physics would be far more interesting if it had not been found." He also lost a $100 bet that its existence would never be confirmed.

 

Hawking is also the subject of an upcoming film starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, which reportedly brought him to tears at first viewing.

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