REUTERS, NEW SCIENTIST, CERN (Switzerland)
GENEVA - Physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva have announced that they have observed a new subatomic particle that may well be the crucial Higgs boson, a.k.a. the "God particle," thus potentially putting an end to an almost 50-year-long game of hide-and-seek with the elusive particle.
"The results are preliminary but the 5 sigma signal at around 125 GeV 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 spokesperson Joe Incandela in a press release published on the CERN website.
A little rusty on your particle physics? Here are three attempts at helping the rest of us to understand what all the fuss is about:
-David J. Miller, a physicist at University College London used the following analogy in 1993: Imagine a cocktail party in a ballroom. Regular people can walk around freely, encountering no resistance from other members of the crowd. But when a celebrity – say, Justin Bieber -- shows up, everybody gathers around so tightly that he can hardly move... The partygoers are like Higgs bosons, giving mass to the whole cluster. Bieber represents basically anything in the universe. For once.
-The Higgs field has also been described as an all-pervading "cosmic treacle," a kind of sticky syrup (see image below) spread throughout the universe. Particles moving through the treacle stick to it, slow down, lose energy, and become heavier. Not to mention yummier.
Peter Higgs, the British physicist after whom the particle is named, called this step a great achievement for the Large Hadron Collider, the 27-km (17-mile) long particle accelerator built in a tunnel underneath the French-Swiss border where experiments to search for the boson have taken place, Reuters reports. Higgs added: "I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge."
If confirmed, the discovery would have virtually illimited implications. One of them being that British physicist Stephen Hawking would owe University of Michigan physicist Gordon Kane $100: Back in 2000, Hawking bet Kane that the Higgs boson would never be found, as reported in the magazine New Scientist.