Has the Elusive Higgs Boson Been Spotted?
A simulated particle collision inside the LHC's CMS experiment shows physicists what a Higgs boson should look like in post-collision data. CERN/LHC
— Physicists at the LHC have announced seeing a tantalizing clue as to the existence of the Higgs Boson.
— A bump — or "excess" — in the particle collision data signals that "something's up."
— Physicists warn, however, this is not a discovery — the signal may not even be the Higgs. More work is needed.
Researchers working at the world's largest atom smasher in Geneva have found tantalizing hints of the tiny, elemental bit of matter that has been labeled "the brick that built the universe" and "the god particle" — but stopped short of announcing the discovery of the tiny particle.
The Higgs Boson is believe to have emerged from the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago and have brought much of the rest of the flying debris together to form galaxies, stars and planets. The element is a crucial component of the "Standard Model" — the all-encompassing physics theory of how the cosmos as we know it works at its basic level — one that scientists have spent decades and billions of dollars hunting for.
Yet no one has convincingly claimed to have glimpsed the Higgs Boson, let alone proved that it actually exists.
"ATLAS sees a small excess at a Higgs mass of 126 GeV [Giga electron volts] coming from 3 channels," CERN scientists wrote on Twitter. Put simply, the scientists have greatly narrowed the area they are studying in the hunt for the Higgs Boson.
"This is the region where, if you see an excess, there's a hint that something's up," said Guido Tonelli, a spokesman for the CMS experiment, at a seminar discussing the findings. CMS, or the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment, is one of the largest international scientific collaborations in history.
But Fabiola Gianotti, the scientist in charge of the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, said the signal they have detected may or may not be the Higgs.
"I think it would be extremely kind of the Higgs boson to be here," she said during the seminar. "But it is too early" for final conclusions, she said. "More studies and more data are needed. The next few months will be very exciting … I don't know what the conclusions will be."
Tonelli agreed, noting that there are still other signals the scientists are peering at in the quest for the Higgs Boson beyond the 126 GeV mark that ATLAS scientists highlighted.
"We cannot exclude the presence of the Standard Model Higgs between 115 and 127 GeV because of a modest excess of events in this mass region that appears, quite consistently, in five independent channels," Tonelli said. "As of today what we see is consistent either with a background fluctuation or with the presence of the boson."
Both concluded that further experiments in 2012 will help refine this analysis. Gianotti remained hopeful that next year, the quest may be resolved.
"Given the outstanding performance of the LHC this year, we will not need to wait long for enough data and can look forward to resolving this puzzle in 2012."
Researchers believe data about the so-called Higgs boson could help explain many scientific mysteries. British physicist Peter Higgs theorized its existence more than 40 years ago to explain why atoms have weight.
"These results will be based on the analysis of considerably more data than those presented at the summer conferences, sufficient to make significant progress in the search for the Higgs boson, but not enough to make any conclusive statement on the existence or non-existence of the Higgs," CERN scientists said prior to the announcement.
The Large Hadron Collider, a massive, 17-mile long circular ring buried on the Swiss border, is thought to be scientists' best chance of finding the Higgs. The dramatic collisions it can create between the tiniest particles pack more energy than anything else on Earth — and could produce many of the most exotic particles that exist in nature, including the Higgs.