We’ve heard an awful lot about the Higgs boson recently. In the last few months, CERN have released a string of statements reporting that they’ve found… well, nothing. However, this luck has changed – this morning, CERN physicists gathered at the LHC and excitedly announced that all their work has paid off: they have discovered a new particle.
The new particle appears to display the characteristics we would expect of the Higgs boson. It is constrained within the expected mass range at 125.3 ± 0.6 GeV – which makes it 133 times heavier than the proton. Crucially, the confidence level of this finding has reached the all-important 5 sigma – meaning that the researchers are 99.9999% sure that what they’ve found is correct and not just a statistical blip or anomaly.
“We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. “The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle’s properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe.”
The results announced this morning were from two separate experiments at CERN: ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus) and CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid). These two experiments independently collected data and placed this exotic new particle to within the same mass range (125-126Gev) at a 5 sigma confidence level.
The #higgsteria mounts…The hype around the announcement was fuelled earlier this week when a video apparently announcing the results of the experiments leaked a day early. CERN spokespeople claimed that they’d filmed a video to cover every eventuality, and that the leaked material was just one of many. That video can be seen here.
The ‘standard model’ of particle physics requires the Higgs boson to exist. This standard model describes all the particles we know of, and their properties and interactions. However, it is just that – a model or theory – and without confirmation of the Higgs boson, physicists would need to reconsider it.
The Higgs is widely said to ‘give other particles mass’. This boson (a particle classification that includes photons and gluons) forms the Higgs field; when particles move through this Higgs field, they interact and gain varying amounts of mass. This is akin to moving through quicksand – the larger the body, the more it will disrupt and interact with its environment. Learning more about the Higgs and its interactions will enable scientists to look deeper into the origins of our universe, and further their understanding of particle and quantum physics.
Today’s announcement is based on data collected in 2011 and 2012, with the 2012 data still under analysis. The results are expected to be formally published in July.
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