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Stephen Hawking Warns “God” Particle Could Kill Us All If Science Gets Enough Funding

"Not if we kill God first!"—Philip Pullman [Citation needed]

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In his foreword for the new book Starmus: 5 Years of Man in Space, Stephen Hawking warns that the Higgs boson particle (also called the “God” particle, because monotheism) discovered by CERN scientists in 2012 and thought to give matter its mass, could destroy the Universe and “we wouldn’t see it coming.”

In an excerpt from the book’s foreword, Hawking writes:

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

But the physicist adds that there’s no need to worry in the at-all foreseeable future: “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, explained to The Daily News that although Hawking may be theoretically correct, the technology necessary to cause catastrophic vacuum decay isn’t feasible–and the Large Hadron Collider doesn’t exacerbate the particle’s destructive potential:

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.

Hawking has no shortage of theoretically accurate dire warnings for our species: in a 2013 speech in which he mentioned physics “would have been far more interesting if it [the Higgs boson] had not been found,” he also warned that humans won’t survive another thousand years on our “fragile planet.” In the 2010 documentary Stephen Hawking’s Universe he cautioned of the dangers posed to humanity by extraterrestrials, and in an article he wrote for The Independent this year, the physicist said that successfully creating artificial intelligence might be our species’ last achievement unless we “learn to avoid the risks.”

If nothing else, the physicist’s newest doomsday warning is great publicity for Starmus, a compilation book of lectures from renowned scientists and astronomers. Pick a copy up soon, while there’s still space and time to read it in.

(via CNet, image via Simon Bisson on Flickr)

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