Why do objects have mass? The elusive Higgs boson could hold the key.
Scientists at CERN say that they are closing in on demonstrating the existence of the elusive Higgs boson – the theoretical subatomic particle that could explain why particles have mass.
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"But be careful — it's intriguing hints," he said. "We have not found it yet, we have not excluded it yet."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The Large Hadron Collider
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Determining what mass the Higgs has helps focus scientists' search for other new physics. For example, a Higgs with a mass around the range of 124 to 126 billion electron volts is "not so bad for supersymmetry," said Heuer, referring to another theory that predicts a partner particle for each one that has already been identified.
The collaborations for the ATLAS and CMS experiments each involve about 3,000 scientists and engineers. They are leading the search for the Higgs, but there are also are several other experiments at CERN looking into other mysteries of the universe.
"We need to get a lot more collisions next year to get a definitive answer to the Shakespearean question, 'To be or not to be,' " Heuer said of the Higgs. "Both experiments have shown that next year very likely we will get an answer that is very solid."
The Higgs boson is hard to find not because it is especially tiny, but rather because it is hard to create, said physicist Howard Gordon of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, who works with the ATLAS experiment.
Physicists smash protons together at very high energy, and only a minority of collisions will create a Higgsboson. The more energy involved, the higher the fraction of collisions that will make a Higgs.
Frank Wilczek, a Nobel laureate and physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said finding the Higgs boson would tie up a loose end of the so-called standard model of physics, which requires that a Higgs-like particle exists.
Proving the Higgs exists would be "a vindication of the equations we've been using all these years," he said. "Since the equations have worked so brilliantly now for decades, it's really nice to dot the i's and cross the t's," he said.
In addition, if the mass of the Higgs is within a certain range, that would support some other theories that go beyond and improve the standard model, he said. Those theories predict the existence of still other particles to be found. That would mean the Large Hadron Collider "will have another wave of brilliant discoveries in the future," Wilczek said.
The mass range reported Tuesday is "perfect" to meet that requirement, he said.
"Because it fits together so beautifully with everything else we know ... I'm certainly inclined to believe it," he said. He called Tuesday's presentations "awesome ... just beautiful work."