The Higgs boson is best known to the layman as the God Particle, even if scientists hate that term. And Stephen Hawking is the best known physicist in the world, so when he says the Higgs boson is going to wipe us the hell out, people listen. But why does he think that… and is he right?
First, explain this “Higgs boson” business!
It’s a particle that has to exist for the Standard Model of physics to make any sort of sense. It creates a “Higgs field,” which, for lack of a better term, explains all the stuff that makes no damn sense, like how some particles have mass and some don’t, yet the ones with mass act like they don’t have mass. Finding it was why we built the Large Hadron Collider. And we seem to have found it. So we’ve got that going for us.
So why does a regular guest star on The Simpsons think it’s going to kill us?
Essentially, he notes in the introduction to a book that he’s worried that the Higgs boson might become unstable if we keep poking it with a stick.
What would happen if it decayed?
Hawking thinks it would create a bubble of true vacuum that would expand at the speed of light and essentially snuff out the entire universe, something that would be impossible to stop or avoid. Even if Hawking’s wrong, this is basically the duct tape keeping the universe together, and you really, really, really do not want it to fail.
So all those people afraid of the Large Hadron Collider were right?
Nope! They’re still wrong! Hawking notes that to do this would take “one hundred billion gigaelectronvolts,” and yes, that last is a real word. More relevantly, that would be the size of a planet. Hawking rather wryly notes something like that wouldn’t be funded.
So, basically, we can continue to jam our thumb in the universe’s eye?
Meh, sure, why not. If something from the Large Hadron Collider is going to kill us, we probably won’t see it coming anyway.