Tomorrow morning, CERN is expected to announce the Large Hadron Collider’s discovery of the Higgs boson subatomic particle. This particle, which has been strongly sought after since it was theorized in 1964 by Peter Higgs, is the last remaining unproven facet of the Standard Model of physics. The Higgs boson is thought to be the sole reason that larger particles (quarks, atoms) have a mass, and really the entire reason that the universe exists in its current form — thus the Higgs boson’s alternative name, the God particle.
Updated @ July 4: CERN has announced the discovery of a new particle. The scientists aren’t calling it the Higgs boson or the God particle until they’re sure — but at this point, it’s a fairly safe bet.
At 9am CEST tomorrow (3am EST), the ATLAS and CMS team leaders will detail their latest findings. Six months ago, at the last CERN/LHC conference, both teams announced that they’d found a statistical bump around a mass-energy of 125 gigaelectron volts (GeV), but they couldn’t say with more than 99.996% certainty that they’d actually found the Higgs boson. Tomorrow, the rumor mill from within CERN says that they will announce with 5-sigma certainty the discovery of the Higgs boson.
5-sigma equates to a 99.99997% chance that the data the CMS and ATLAS detectors are seeing aren’t just random noise — and a 0.00003% chance that they’ve been hoodwinked; 5-sigma is the necessary certainty for something to be officially labeled a scientific “discovery.” There are some rumors that one detector has found the Higgs boson with 5-sigma certainty, while the other has not. It might also be that we’ll have to wait for the data from both the CMS and ATLAS detectors to be combined before we have an exact fix on the Higgs boson — a process that takes time, and which won’t be ready for tomorrow. Finally, the Tevatron particle accelerator in the US — LHC’s smaller cousin — has also recently announced similar findings in the 125 GeV region, strongly suggesting that LHC’s findings in December were not random happenstance.
Fermilab’s Tevatron CDF detector
If CERN does announce the discovery of the God particle tomorrow morning, then, what will happen? Will the LHC implode, taking the universe with it? Will monotheistic churches grab their pitchforks and march on Fermilab’s Tevatron? In a word: No. Completing the Standard Model and finally sewing up the relationship between mass and energy would be awesome, though. Let’s not forget that the Higgs boson and the invisible Higgs field that they generate, if they exist, are the sole reason that anything exists in the universe, including you-me, the sun, moon, and stars. When we can observe that field, and possiblymeddle with it, the possibilities for modern science are rather exciting.
On the flip side, even if the Higgs boson isn’t discovered tomorrow — or if the Higgs boson doesn’t exist at all, which is still a possibility — the world will still revolve. It would actually be more exciting if the Higgs boson doesn’t exist, as it would involve a complete rewrite of the Standard Model, which has been remarkably robust since its inception in the 1960s and ’70s. Science is cool like that: It would be awfully nice if we find the God particle, but if we don’t, we’ll just postulate some new theories and keep plodding onwards through petabytes of scientific data until something fits.
We will update this story tomorrow morning with the latest findings from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland.
Read more about the importance of the Higgs boson and Higgs field — or watch the video below, which does a very good job of explaining the Higgs boson.