Although it was the Fourth of July holiday in the United States, there were plenty of fireworks in Europe, where scientists announced they’d probably found the elusive Higgs boson, a particle believed to give all objects mass.
But is this newly-discovered particle actually the previously-unseen Higgs boson first proposed in 1964 by British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs?
Well, they’re pretty sure it is, but can’t say with 100 percent certainty.
“We observe, in our data, clear signs of a new particle at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV,” said ATLAS experiment spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti, “but a little more time is needed to prepare these results for publication.”
CERN describes “Five sigma” as the top end of a scale particle physicists use to describe the certainty of a discovery. One sigma means the results could be random fluctuations in the data, three sigma counts as an observation and a five-sigma result is a discovery.
“This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found,” said CMS experiment spokesperson Joe Incandela. “The implications are very significant and it is precisely for this reason that we must be extremely diligent in all of our studies and cross-checks.”
The Higgs boson is believed to play a critical role in physics, as a building block of the universe.
“It’s hard not to get excited by these results,” said Sergio Bertolucci, CERN research director. “We stated last year that in 2012 we would either find a new Higgs-like particle or exclude the existence of the Standard Model Higgs. With all the necessary caution, it looks to me that we are at a branching point: the observation of this new particle indicates the path for the future towards a more detailed understanding of what we’re seeing in the data.”
The results presented this week in Geneva are based on data collected by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the the world’s largest atom smasher, in 2011 and 2012. More 2012 LHC data is being processed, so a complete analysis isn’t expected until around the end of July.
Next week, I talk with Dr. Pierre Savard, an Atlas team member, who will give us an insider’s view of the search for most sought-after particle in modern science.
If you have any questions you’d like to ask Dr. Savard, please let me know through our comments section below.