The most elusive subatomic particle in the history of science may have finally been discovered.
Physicists from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), announced Thursday that the new particle discovered last summer appears to be the Higgs boson, also known as the “God particle.”
“To me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson, though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is,” Joe Incandela, a professor from the University of California and lead author of one of the CERN teams, said in a statement released by CERN.
Discovering the Higgs boson is widely seen as the final cornerstone piece to understanding why the universe is made up of matter and not anti-matter. The discovery will likely fill in the last few pieces of the a key ingredient to the Standard Model, a set of equations that has governed the law of the cosmos for the last 35 years and from which scientists around the world reference when developing theories of the how the natural world functions. The discovery could also usher in the new age of science, which will likely focus on how dark matter and dark energy influence matter throughout the universe.
For Peter Higgs, the British theoretical physicists for which the particle is named, its symmetry could explain the origin of mass of elementary particles. The initial announcement of the particle’s discovery, in the summer 2012, left particle physicists rejoicing. The discovery, the result of successful test run at the world’s largest atom smasher — the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — was the culmination of nearly sixty years of theorizing. While CERN scientists at the the time said hints of the elusive particle left them confident of its discovery, additional analysis has only increased their confidence.
“The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent,” says Incandela.
After initial analysis of data from some 2,000 trillion collisions of subatomic particles in the Large Hadron Collidor in Geneva, Switzerland, researchers say they are slowly beginning to shift their focus to examining the properties of the Higgs boson. CERN physicists suggest the new particle was only the lightest of a whole set of Higgs bosons still to be discovered. A final verdict will depend on further investigation into the particle’s spin and how it decays relative to other particles, according to scientists. In order to discover the answer to that question, scientists say they will require additional data from the LHC.
To verify the physical existence of the Higgs boson would enable physicists to map the simple but elegant force field that permeates space and pervades elementary particles with mass. Without the Higgs field or a “Higgs-like” particle, all forms of matter would be ungoverned by elementary principles of physics, zipping by in every which direction and passing through us as neither atoms nor life.
Scientists predicted the existence of the Higgs boson in the 1960s to explain why other particles have mass. A discover in 1967 by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg eventually allowed the world of science to unify two of the four forces of nature, electromagnetism and the nuclear “weak” force. The theory allowed science to explain why photons are massless and why they carry W and Z bosons — which are about 100 times as massive as photons. Unfortunately, for physicists the model did not elude to mass of the Higgs boson, leaving them to smash particles for the last last half-century.
While the discovery is thought to be just one of a handful possible with the CERN collider, repairs will keep the accelerator down for the next two years, providing scientists plenty of time to process data before its reopening in 2015.