Random Thoughts on the Universe

Friday, July 09, 2010

Is the Higgs in Sight?

There is a rumor circulating through physics departments today that the Tevatron particle accelerator has seen a Higgs boson. So far there is no official announcement, but people connected with that experiment have been talking about an interesting signal. It could be that in a few weeks the data is released and the Higgs will be revealed after only forty years of searching.

For those who haven't read about the Higgs before, here is the summary. Back in the 1960's, a theory was developed which could explain electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces through the use of symmetry properties of fundamental particles. The problem is that these symmetries require the existence of four massless particles to carry the force, and three of these particles are among the four heaviest ever measured. That creates a little problem with the theory.

But Higgs and others pointed out that the symmetry only has to hold for the underlying theory, and very early in the history of the Universe it could be broken with no ill effects. At the Big Bang, all particles were massless, but then a new particle known as the Higgs boson started to flood the Universe. When other particles move, they are impeded by this sea of Higgs particles and it appears that they have a mass. And so for the last forty years physicists have been desperate to find even one of these elusive particles. Maybe now they have...

It would also be a big achievement, because the Large Hadron Collider was built to find this thing , and it has about a 50% chance of seeing it this year. So if the Tevatron is the one to discover it, it might be just a little embarrassing!

Maybe it will be a huge announcement, maybe it won't. As with all rumors, all we can do is wait and see what happens.

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