Scientists working with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva announced on December 13, 2011 that they’ve found hopeful signs of the Higgs boson. Also known as the “God Particle,” it is a hypothetical sub-atomic particle that could explain how the universe gets its mass.
Two independent experiments with the LHC both found signs of the Higgs boson particle in a narrow range of energies, based on analysis of debris from high-energy collisions. The European nuclear research agency CERN, which runs the LHC, said in a press conference that it needs more data to confirm, possibly in 2012, the existence of the Higgs boson.
Rolf Heur, CERN’s Director General, made the following statement:
The Higgs boson is the last missing cornerstone of the so-called Standard Model, which describes the microcosm and the visible universe. The Higgs boson should be responsible for giving mass to elementary particles. This year, the Large Hadron Collider has worked extremely well and has given the experiments a lot of statistics, which allows them to squeeze in and close the window for the allowed mass range of this standard model Higgs boson. And within this still-allowed mass region, there are some intriguing fluctuations. However, we still need the data of the year 2012 to make on the Shakespearean question of the Higgs boson, to be or not to be. We have exciting times, this year and next year.
This latest announcement by CERN centers on two experiments of the Large Hadron Collider. One is called ATLAS, short for A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS, which is one of the LHC’s two general-purpose detectors. ATLAS identifies particles created in collisions and measures their paths and energies.
The other general-purpose detector announced December 13 is the CMS, short for Compact Muon Solenoid. It has a different system of magnets to detect particles than the ATLAS.
The Standard Model is a scientific framework that describes the hidden world of sub-atomic particles, particles that make the atoms and molecules of our universe. The model has held up well against experiments since it was formulated in the late 1960s, and it’s been successful in predicting the existence of quarks, particles with no known sub-structure. One problem with the Standard Model is that it assumes that all elementary particles, such as an electron, in the model have no mass, which is not the case in reality.
Instead, the Standard Model assumes the existence of the yet-to-be-discovered Higgs boson particle. It interacts with other elementary particles and composite particles such as protons and neutrons, which form the bulk of atoms and of our material universe. In that interaction, says the Model, mass is conferred to matter.
The Higgs boson has to date remained elusive. The results of the ATLAS and CMS experiments announced by CERN have narrowed the range of energies the Higgs could lie in from 115 GeV to 130 GeV (GeV = billion electron volts), about 125 times heavier than a proton. What that means is that both ATLAS and CMS measured more collisions in that range than expected without the hypothetical Higgs boson in analysis. But CERN said by press release:
Taken individually, none of these excesses is any more statistically significant than rolling a die and coming up with two sixes in a row. What is interesting is that there are multiple independent measurements pointing to the region of 124 to 126 GeV. It’s far too early to say whether ATLAS and CMS have discovered the Higgs boson, but these updated results are generating a lot of interest in the particle physics community.
Bottom Line: Scientists affiliated with the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva announced on December 13, 2011 that they’ve found hopeful signs of the Higgs boson, a.k.a. the “God Particle,” a hypothetical sub-atomic particle that could explain how the universe gets its mass. But more data, gathered possibly in 2012, will be needed to confirm the Higgs boson’s existence.
In his years with EarthSky, Jorge Salazar conducted thousands of in-depth interviews with scientists. He knows a lot about as diverse as nanotechnology, ecosystem-based management, climate change, global health, international environmental treaties, astrophysics and cosmology, and environmental security. Jorge currently works as a Technical Writer/Editor for the Texas Advanced Computing Center, which designs and deploys powerful advanced computing technologies and innovative software solutions for scientific researchers.