In Summary

Professor Stephen Hawking has claimed that the Higgs Boson – the so-called 'God' particle – may destroy the Universe. The claims are made in the preface to a new book Starmus and have been reported in international media.

The discussion has raised fears that experiments trying to learn more about the famous particle, using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which originally found it, might trigger such a catastrophe.

Professor Hawking has suggested that, at very high energy levels, the Higgs could become unstable, causing a ‘catastrophic vacuum decay’ that would cause time and space to collapse and transform into a new universe.

Swinburne University of Technology astronomer Dr Alan Duffy says while the claims in theory are possible, Professor Hawking almost certainly wasn’t suggesting that this would in fact occur.

“Think of a rock rolling down a valley, it may get lodged in a crevice high up from the valley floor waiting for a nudge to let it continue falling down to the valley floor below,” Dr Duffy said.

“The Higgs particle, as Professor Hawking suggests, could be in the situation of the rock perched precariously on the crevice, needing a nudge to fall further.

“If this were to occur somewhere then a tiny bubble of a new universe would form. It would race outwards like a fireball at the speed of light, converting our old Universe into a new universe and destroying anything in its path.”

The chances of this occurring are so small that we would need to wait trillions of years for it to occur. Long before then in just 5 billion years our Sun will run out of fuel, swelling up as a Red Giant and destroying the Earth, making it unlikely humanity will ever have to worry about the Higgs destroying us first.

“The energy needed to ‘nudge’ the Higgs, causing it to become unstable, is so large that the LHC would need to be the size of our Solar System for it to even approach the level needed to trigger such a catastrophe” Dr Duffy said.

“In fact, the energy is so large that the only time it’s occurred in our Universe was just after the Big Bang and since the Universe clearly didn't end then we're confident it won't end in the future.”

“Almost certainly we’ll uncover some exciting new physics along the way that stabilises the Higgs field and opens a door to better understanding the Universe around us,” Dr Duffy said.

More information on the new book Starmus here and the Sunday Times article that started the media frenzy here.

For more information or to organise an interview please contact:

Dr Alan Duffy