(CBS SF) — Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking believes the recently discovered Higgs boson, also known as the “God particle,” has the potential to unravel the universe, at least theoretically, as he writes in the forward of a new book on space travel.
In several communities around the world, massive particle accelerators lie just beneath the earth’s surface, including in the Bay Area at Stanford’s Linear Accelerator. There, they quietly smash subatomic particles into each other at speeds and energies that are mind-boggling.
In the world’s most advanced particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider–built crossing France and Switzerland–the beams of energy and particles operate in a circular fashion, moving faster and faster. Scientists used this facility’s awesome power to discover the existence of what appears to be the Higgs boson in 2012. After months of testing and corroboration, two of the original researchers, Peter Higgs and Francois Englert won the Nobel Prize for predicting its existence.
In studying the once theoretical particle, Hawking writes the following in the forward of Starmus: 50 Years of Man In Space.
The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become megastable at energies above 100bn giga-electron-volts (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. This could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming.
As reported in the UK’s Daily Express, though, it would take a particle accelerator the size of earth to generate this type of energy.
While the end of the universe from a subatomic particle at the hands of scientists in a super-secure lab makes for a great headline, for the next few hundreds years or so, there is nothing to worry about, as there is no way to even consider building any man-made structure of that size. Yet.