The elusive ‘God particle’ discovered by scientists in 2012 has the potential to destroy the universe, Professor Stephen Hawking has warned.
At very high energy levels, the Higgs boson could cause space and time suddenly collapse – and ‘we wouldn’t see it coming’, the former Cambridge professor of mathematics says.
The God particle, which gives shape and size to everything that exists, could cause a ‘catastrophic vacuum delay’ if scientists were to put it under extreme stress.
A disaster like this is very unlikely for the time being as physicists do not have a particle accelerator large enough create such an experiment, but Prof Hawking’s comments have excited scientists, the Sunday Times reported.
The theoretical physicist wrote his thoughts on the Higgs boson in the preface to a new book, Starmus, a collection of lectures by scientists and astronomers including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Queen guitarist Brian May.
‘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.’
The professor did add sarcastically, however, that such an event is unlikely in the near future.
He said: ‘A particle accelerator that reaches 100bn GeV would be larger than Earth, and is unlikely to be funded in the present economic climate.’
Professor John Ellis, a theoretical physicist at Cern, said: ‘One thing should be made clear. The discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) did not cause this problem, and collisions at the LHC could not trigger the instability, because their energies are far too low.’
Particle accelerators make subatomic particles travel at greater and greater speeds as they are pumped with more energy before smashing them together.
Scientists do this to try and spot tiny fragments of particles which fly off, and it is how the Higgs boson was discovered at the Cern LHC in Switzerland in 2012.
In that experiment, physicists noticed unexpected debris from the collisions that fitted with what British scientist Peter Higgs had predicted in the early 1960s.
The Higgs boson particle is thought to be part of the mechanism that gives matter its mass, but scientists do not fully understand it yet.