Today the 4th of July Became Not Just a Day for Americans to Celebrate


What Today’s Higgs Boson Discovery Really Means

Earlier today, scientists from the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider announced the discovery of a subatomic particle that’s consistent with the Higgs Boson. So, have physicists finally found the elusive particle? Short answer?Yes. Longer answer? Well…

If you were to say July 4, 2012 was the day the Higgs boson was officially discovered, you wouldn’t really be wrong. As CERN Director General Rolf Heuer put it, “As a layman, I think we have it.” That’s about as unequivocal a statement as you’re likely to get from CERN, which is understandably conservative when it comes to announcing possible physics-shattering discoveries. But then, there’s a second half to Heuer’s quote, one that probably won’t get as much attention: “But as a scientist, I have to say, ‘What do we have?'” That’s a huge question, one that won’t be answered today, maybe not this year. Today’s announcement is just the beginning of the Higgs story, definitely not the end.

So what, exactly, did we discover?

Rolf Heuer offered as good a summation as any when he said, “We have observed a new particle that is consistent with a Higgs boson.” Certainly, the two sets of independent experiments have a tentatively confirmed discovery of a new subatomic particle, and it’s in the correct mass range and is the right type of particle to be the Higgs. That’s a huge deal in and of itself — this is the first new elementary particle discovered since the top quark in 1995. But we can’t say just yet that what CERN has discovered is definitely the Higgs boson, let alone the one predicted by the Standard Model.

So then, here’s what we know. The CMS experiment detected a particle at 125.3±0.6 gigaelectronvolts, meaning its mass is about 133 times that of a proton. The ATLAS experiment, which works independently of CMS, has found a particle at 126.5±0.6 GeV. Depending on how you combine the data, both experiments are hovering right around a five-sigma level of certainty.

This means both teams are about 99.9999% that the signals they have detected really do belong to a new particle, as opposed to being random statistical noise. Five-sigma is the accepted threshold for a discovery, and the fact that both experiments are at five-sigma — or 4.9-sigma, depending on the exact data, but the figure is only expected to climb as the team analyzes more data — means we can be very confident that a new particle has indeed been discovered.

But is this the Higgs boson?

The honest answer is: We don’t know yet. We know that the particle in question is a boson, one of the two fundamental classes of elementary particles and the type generally associated with carrying force. We know this, because of the newly discovered particle’s diphotonic decay — simply meaning that it decays into a pair of photons, which is something only bosons do. And of course, the mass range of 125-126 GeV is in line with what we expected for the Higgs boson — after all, that’s why ATLAS and CMS were looking there in the first place. That, as CMS spokesperson Joe Incandela pointed out today, makes this particle the heaviest boson ever found.

But the Higgs should have a bunch of unique properties that have yet to be confirmed. The most important of these is that its spin value is 0, unlike any known particle. We don’t yet know the spin of this new particle. If it’s 0, then that goes a long way to confirming that this is indeed the Higgs. If its spin is some other value, then there’s a near endless supply of other hypothetical particles it could be. The odds are probably still pretty good that we’re looking at the Higgs here, but it certainly can’t be taken for granted.

But if this is the Higgs, then it completes the Standard Model, right?

Not necessarily. The thing is, just because this is a Higgs doesn’t mean that this is the Higgs, the one that fills in the missing blank in the Standard Model. (“Completes” is really too strong a word, as our own Dr. Dave Goldberg explained at the end of his post yesterday.) But that’s not the only kind of possible Higgs — depending on how this new particle behaves, it might point to more exotic physics that go beyond what’s predicted by the Standard Model. That’s an exciting possibility, as it might mean the Higgs can the door up for supersymmetry, or perhaps improve our understanding of the mysterious dark matter and even more mysterious dark energy that make up 96% of the universe.

The particle’s decay paths, or the way in which the boson decays into other particles in the Large Hadron Collider, should clarify whether this particle actually fits the Standard Model as we currently know it. As ATLAS team member Dr. Pippa Wells told BBC News, several of the observed decay paths already show apparent departures from what would be expected. These could well just be statistical flukes that will get ironed out with the addition of more data, but they might also point to something significant.

So just what are we left with? Well, we almost certainly have ourselves a new elementary particle, the first such particle found in nearly twenty years. All the data announced today is still preliminary – the first formal analyses of the CMS and ATLAS data should start rolling out towards the end of the month.

And the Large Hadron Collider is still set to run through the end of the year, meaning there’s still many months more of data still left to be gathered. All that should help confirm once and for all whether what was announced today is really the Higgs boson, and whether it’s really the Higgs boson predicted by the Standard Model. This is unquestionably a massive breakthrough in our understanding of physics — but there’s every reason to think today’s announcement will be dwarfed by all the breakthroughs still to come.

For more from the CERN physicists themselves, check out a fairly technical webcast of the results and subsequent press conference from today’s annoucement.

Image of Kai Schulte’s Visual Higgs Boson sculpture by Michael J. Linden on Flickr.

http://io9.com/5923494/what-todays-higgs-boson-discovery-really-means

Advertisements

About The Shogun of Baseball

Geek, lover of Baseball, avid comic reader, Bruce Lee fan, follower of Jesus and last but Never least Dad and Husband. View all posts by The Shogun of Baseball

51 responses to “Today the 4th of July Became Not Just a Day for Americans to Celebrate

  • deca mactan

    We are a gaggle of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community. Your web site provided us with valuable information to paintings on. You have done a formidable activity and our whole group will likely be grateful to you.

  • Stam the Maam

    Woah this weblog is great

  • SEO London

    [SPAM removed by Administrator]

  • All in One SEO Pro | All in One SEO Pro Free | All in One SEO Pro Nulled

    [SPAM removed by Administrator]

  • Blue Mountain Mesh

    We are a gaggle of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your website provided us with useful information to paintings on. You’ve performed a formidable activity and our entire group shall be thankful to you.

  • Internet Marketing Promotion

    [SPAM removed by Administrator]

  • Web Market Development

    we are bassically witnessing on of humananities biggest discoveries.

  • Seo Hosting

    [SPAM removed by Administrator]

  • pet adoption

    [SPAM removed by Administrator]

  • débouchage canalisations

    [SPAM removed by Administrator]

  • San Diego Practice Studio

    [SPAM removed by Administrator]

  • Reseller Hosting

    Hello there, I found your website by way of Google even as looking for a related subject, your website got here up, it seems to be good. I have added to my favourites|added to bookmarks.

  • Details on fat loss 4 idiots

    [SPAM removed by Administrator]

  • newbie guide

    [SPAM removed by Administrator]

  • Unlimited Web Hosting

    [SPAM removed by Administrator]

  • Membership Business Model

    [SPAM removed by Administrator]

  • freedom rings

    I’m no longer positive the place you’re getting your information, however good topic. I must spend some time studying more or figuring out more. Thank you for excellent info I used to be on the lookout for this info for my mission.

  • Dale

    Hi, Neat post. There is a problem together with your site in web explorer, would test this? IE still is the market chief and a large part of other people will miss your wonderful writing because of this problem.

  • out of body experiences

    You actually make it seem so easy together with your presentation however I in finding this topic to be really something which I believe I might never understand. It sort of feels too complex and very large for me. I am looking forward for your next submit, I will attempt to get the dangle of it!

  • Wtf???? Is are the real deal?

    naturally like your web-site however you need to test the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I find it very troublesome to inform the reality nevertheless I will definitely come back again.

  • Ben Folds Five Towels

    My brother recommended I would possibly like this web site. He was totally right.

  • Homie da Clown

    hi!,I like your writing very so much!

  • acorn

    Your website provided us with valuable information.

  • santa maria

    So we don’t know if this is the God or Dog Particle yet.

  • hoodia gordonii

    Well, although no one can be considered a practical expert on the Higgs, there’s quite a bit of theoretical understanding, at least in the broad strokes, about what the Higgs is and how we can interact with it, and pretty much every scientist I’ve read (both those expert on it and those with just a more general physics background) are in near unanimous agreement that the Higgs is unlikely to have any practical application – and while I’m aware scientists have been famously wrong on this sort of thing before, there are just as many instances where they have been absolutely correct on this point. While the electron analogy is worth noting, it’s inexact – electrons are something we are in constant and obvious interaction with (for lack of slightly more elegant phrasing), whereas the Higgs is something it’s taken us a half-century to see, and then only very fleetingly. I have no doubt the Higgs will be vastly important to the expansion of our understanding of the Standard Model and theoretical physics in general, and it’s possible it will have some indirect effect, but I just can’t see any reason for any particular optimism about its practical applications – nor, should I stress, do I see any *need* for such optimism. For the time being and, by pretty much all expert opinion, for the foreseeable future, the Higgs belongs completely to theoretical, not practical science, and I’d rather celebrate it as that.

  • nona briggs

    Why do you say there’s likely to be zero real world application for the foreseeable future? I am no expert but I think the point of all this is that really no one is yet. The fact is that if this is the Higgs boson then it will be one of the most important discoveries in human history and the amount of practical applications will likely be limitless. “When the electron was discovered in 1897, its uses were not obvious. But, what is obvious today is that we can’t live without electrons, since they run through all our electronics (of cellphones, laptops and TVs) and even make it possible for you to read this now.” -Ainissa Ramirez
    I think it’s clear (read: pretty damn foreseeable) that the discovery of the HB will be a game changer all around.

  • jan

    I have read a few articles that has the heading “What does this mean?” and none of them has really explained what it means. They probably have for anyone with a higher level of physics degree. But for a graphic designer like me and a sci fi enthusiast…I have no clue. Can anyone point to any practical implication the man in the street will notice in a few years time as a result of this discovery? Will we suddenly have batteries with 1000% performance incresease? Will we get OLED TVs at 80 inches costing 299$?? Will we get passenger shutels to the moon and hotels there?? These are probably for a scientist silly questions, but without something to ground this into a practical reality a normal person can relate to….its just….words. Sorry!

  • howard

    I do not understand why that newly discovered particle has to be an elementary one and not composite one. Is there a good explanation?

  • Athenos

    It’s kind of pointless to write an article without summarizing the basics of what it is you may or may not have found, and instead just assume everyone reading the article is a theoretical physics major who knows the entire history of the particle in question. We all have a basic appreciation of science, however we are not all that knowledgeable about pure physics, much less theoretical particles.

  • fanbox

    Hello There. Happy guy right here. Dark matter here we come!

  • justin

    aMERICANS DIED ON THE FORTH OF jULY AND YOU MAKE A JOKE WITH THIS TITLE! i HOPE THEY DEPORT YOU COMMIE

    • ObiWanCanubi

      You do realize that the 4th celebrates the signing of the Deceleration of Independence, not a war. right? Yes people have died to protect our freedom and yes people will continue to die to protect our rights to blog on the internets. To say mentioning the 4th in any context but America is self centered, the 4th of July is on every Julian Calendar used in the modern world. I think we can share our American Holiday with a world-wide discovery.

  • greenie

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Olo

    cant wait to read much more from you. That is actually a wonderful web site.

  • ortne

    I simply could not go away your website before saying YEY!

  • ortne

    Thanks a lot for sharing

  • Penta

    I do not even understand how I stopped up here, but I believed this post was great. I do not recognise who you might be but definitely you are going to a famous blogger should you are not already. Cheers!

  • Dr. Vince Trapp

    Sooo un-American, uncalled for title

  • Reed

    I have been waiting for this days since they fired up the HLC

  • Casey

    Wonderful, you simply won a new reader.

  • Quinn

    Some of you commenters are very immature and shallow minded, or just stupid. America does not own the 4th of July, we have a very special holiday that we celebrate on that day, but now so does the world. God Bless America.

  • Dizzy

    dITTO! kEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

  • Dan Kobb

    My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was entirely right. Thank you!

  • dubai

    Hi, Neat post. There’s a problem with your website in internet explorer, might check this? IE nonetheless is the market chief and a huge component of other folks will leave out your wonderful writing because of this problem.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: