Two teams of scientists at CERN have confirmed the discovery of a new subatomic particle, which may well be the elusive Higgs boson, also known as “the God particle”.
“I can confirm that a particle has been discovered that is consistent with the Higgs boson theory,” said John Womersley, chief executive of the UK’s Science & Technology Facilities Council.
The result is still preliminary, but “it’s very strong and very solid,” according to Joe Incandela, spokesman for one of the two teams hunting for the Higgs particle.
The CMS team is confident about its findings, which they say leave only a one in two million chance that the result they received could have happen if no Higgs boson existed.
Both teams put the mass of the new particle at around 125 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) – corresponding to the predicted mass of the Higgs boson.
The discovery is the strongest-yet in favor of the particle’s existence.
The Higgs boson is the last subatomic elemental particle predicted by the Standard Model to be discovered experimentally.
The model is a fundamental part of quantum physics, which manages to incorporate three of the four known fundamental interactions – the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions – meaning only gravity is excluded. Since its formulation in the mid 20th century, Standard Model has been considered increasingly credible as new discoveries conformed to its predictions.
The boson, which is responsible for elementary particles having mass, has been evading physicists’ eyes decades, because they didn’t have the means to observe it. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s biggest particle accelerator, was built partially for the purpose of finding the Higgs boson.
Signs of the particle were discovered through thousands of experiments at the LHC, where protons and antiprotons were smashed at almost-light speeds. The collisions produced new particles in their wake. Many of them can exist only fractions of seconds before decaying into lighter ones.
Scientists were analyzing the resulting particles to establish what produced them and pinpoint the rare events of the appearance of the yet-unseen particle. They also had to ensure that what they got were actual sightings rather than quirks of probability, which rules quantum physics.
The Higgs boson is often referred to as “the God particle” by the media. The name comes from the title of a popular science book by Leon Lederman, who nicknamed the particle in that way due to its importance to modern particle physics. However many scientists dislike the name, because it exaggerates the role Higgs boson actually plays.
A computer screen is pictured before a scientific seminar to deliver the latest update in the search for the Higgs boson at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin, near Geneva July 4, 2012.
British physicist Peter Higgs arrives for a scientific seminar to deliver the latest update in the search for the Higgs boson at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin near Geneva July 4, 2012.