Thursday, July 5, 2012

Image of the Week: Has the Elusive Higgs Boson been Found?

Unless you were hiding under a rock this week, you likely heard the buzz about the Higgs boson (or perhaps more accurately the "Higgs-like particle"). The sub-atomic particle, proposed in 1964 by Peter Higgs and other theorists, has eluded scientist for decades. But on Wednesday July 4th, scientists announced that they had amassed enough evidence to officially describe a new sub-atomic particle--one with characteristics closely matched to the long-sought-after Higgs boson.

Image © 2012 CERN
For two years, physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland have been smashing protons together at high speeds and observing the crash sites with sensitive detectors. They were looking for signs that the collisions had (at least occasionally) emitted a Higgs boson, which according to its theoretical properties would immediately decay into other particles. Our image of the week is a computer rendering of one of the experimental collisions. The yellow dotted lines and green towers radiating out from the crash show characteristics matching what scientists would expect to observe as a Higgs boson decayed into a pair of photons.

By examining the subatomic shrapnel from trillions of collisions, the scientists were able to conclude that they had indeed shaken loose this new Higgs-like particle.  This is big news because the Higgs boson is the last piece "missing" (undetected by science) from the "Standard Model" of particle physics that describes the structure of matter and our universe.

While the researchers are cautious about saying that the particle they have observed is definitely the Higgs boson, they are certain that it's a huge discovery for physics. And the possibility that it's a different, as-yet-unpredicted particle is equally as exciting. To gain a clearer picture of the discovery, the research teams will gather as much data as possible before the LHC shuts down for a two-year period of maintenance and upgrades.

Bonus footage! We selected an image of the week, but we couldn't resist sharing this video as well. NOVA produced it last year when scientists were still searching for evidence of the Higgs boson. It's a little dated in that respect, but it gives a nice, quick explanation of the Higgs boson and an interview with Peter Higgs.

Watch The Higgs Particle Matters on PBS. See more from NOVA.

Dig Deeper
Learn more about the LCH, the massive (27-kilometer-long) particle accelerator, where scientists labored to find evidence of the Higgs boson

Read the Science News story "Higgs Found" by Alexandra Witze

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