New Delhi: The world’s costliest atom smasher may have finally had a peek at God. Two independent teams of researchers at CERN, which manages the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), said they discovered a new particle that may well be the Higgs boson, or the so-called God particle, the last of a set of fundamental particles that make up the universe.
This new entity, according to the scientists at CERN, displays most characteristics and is within the weight range that decades of theoretical calculations have predicted for the Higgs boson. However, there’s still a sliver of a chance that this may be a different kind of unexpected particle, or one that’s not exactly what mainstream theories expect it to be.
The findings were publicized by teams of scientists on Wednesday at a press conference in Melbourne, and were made by the Atlas and CMS detectors. These are part of the LHC and are independently equipped to analyse the collisions of the collider, as well as observe with unprecedented resolution properties of a slew of subatomic particles.
“The results are preliminary, but the five sigma signal at around 125 GeV (gigaelectron volt) we’re seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found,” said CMS experiment spokesperson Joe Incandela. “The implications are very significant and it is precisely for this reason that we must be extremely diligent in all of our studies and cross-checks.”
The five sigma signal means there is only a one in three million chance that the particle observed is a result of a statistical fluke and it is expected that the CERN scientists will make a more comprehensive announcement after a fuller analysis, and through the established procedure of publishing in a peer-reviewed journal.
An Indian scientist, who was closely involved in the design of the CMS, said that Wednesday’s statement was as close as scientists would get to describing their find as a discovery.
“All the data is consistent, and this is as close as we can get to be sure that there is a new particle,” said Naba K. Mondal, a professor at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and collaborator on the CMS. “There are five classes of analyses that we need to be certain and three—and these are the three most important—show the Higgs signature. Two more are left, and that’s why we don’t have complete, formal certainty yet.”
The Higgs boson is a final piece of the so-called Standard Model of physics, a theory that explains how a few particles combine with one another to make up all matter and interact with each other through the fundamental forces such as the electromagnetic, strong and weak forces.
A key conundrum is how these weightless particles acquire mass, and to explain this, a team of theoreticians, including Peter Higgs, in the 1960s proposed a mechanism that would give rise to a weighty Higgs boson, which in turn confers mass to the other particles.
Had scientists not found a Higgs boson, mainstream physics of the last 50 years would have had to undergo a radical rethink. However, finding the Higgs boson doesn’t per se bring scientists significantly closer to explaining how gravity—the fourth of the fundamental forces—fits in along with the other forces as a fundamental force, why matter should exist in the first place, and what makes up dark matter and dark energy, which cumulatively make up 96% of all matter, but is yet imperceptible to us.
“Finding the Higgs isn’t the only purpose of the LHC. There will be greater happiness if we find other particles, called supersymmetric particles that will give us a clearer idea of the make-up of dark matter and energy,” said Mondal.
But several scientists say the results are monumental. “It’s hard not to get excited by these results,” said CERN research director Sergio Bertolucci. “We stated last year that in 2012 we would either find a new Higgs-like particle or exclude the existence of the Standard Model Higgs. With all the necessary caution, it looks to me that we are at a branching point: the observation of this new particle indicates the path for the future towards a more detailed understanding of what we’re seeing in the data.”
AP contributed to this story.