In Brief

Stephen Hawking: 'God particle' could destroy entire universe

The Higgs boson particle could cause time and space to collapse at high energies, warns the physicist

Stephen Hawking

The 'God particle', officially known as the Higgs boson, has the power to destroy the universe, according to Professor Stephen Hawking.

He warns that the particle could become unstable at extremely high energy levels, leading to a "catastrophic vacuum decay" that would expand at the speed of light, causing the collapse of time and space.

The warning was made by the cosmologist in his new book Starmus: 50 Years of Man in Space. In the introduction, Hawking writes: "The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100bn giga-electronvolts".

"This could happen at any time and we wouldn't see it coming."

However, Hawking said such conditions were very unlikely. A particle accelerator that reaches such high levels would need to be "larger than earth" and is "unlikely to be funded in the present economic climate", he notes sarcastically.

The Higgs boson was discovered by scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in 2012, more than four decades after British physicist Peter Higgs and other physicists first predicted its existence. It signified a major breakthrough in our understanding of the laws of nature that govern matter.

The latest revelation might cause concern among Hawking's fellow physicists, writes Sunday Times science editor Jonathan Leake, not because they disagree with him "but for fear it might alarm the taxpaying public, which funds their experiments".

Scientists also appear sanguine about the prospect of time and space suddenly collapsing. "One thing should be made clear," said Professor John Ellis, a theoretical physicist at CERN "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."

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