A section of CERN's Large Hadron Collider.
Leading physicists are saying it’s still too soon to know whether CERN’s newly discovered subatomic particle fits the description given by the Standard Model ~ the theory that has ruled physics for the last half-century ~ or whether it is an impostor, a single particle, or even the first of many particles yet to be discovered.
According to today's New York Times, CERN Director Rolf-Dieter Heuer’s exclamation earlier today of, “I think we have it,” signaled what is probably the beginning of the end for one of the longest, most expensive searches in the history of science. If scientists are lucky, the Times contends, the discovery could lead to a new understanding of how the universe began.
Confirmation of the Higgs boson or something very much like it would constitute a rendezvous with destiny for a generation of physicists who have believed in the boson for half a century without ever seeing it. And it affirms a grand view of a universe ruled by simple and elegant and symmetrical laws, but in which everything interesting in it, like ourselves, is a result of flaws or breaks in that symmetry.
According to the Standard Model, which has ruled physics for 40 years, the Higgs boson is the only visible and particular manifestation of an invisible force field, a cosmic molasses that permeates space and imbues elementary particles that would otherwise be massless with mass. Particles wading through it would gain heft.
Without this Higgs field, as it is known, or something like it, physicists say all the elementary forms of matter would zoom around at the speed of light, flowing through our hands like moonlight. There would be neither atoms nor life.
Physicists said that they would probably be studying the new Higgs particle for years.
Any deviations from the simplest version of the boson — and there are hints of some already — could open a gateway to new phenomena and deeper theories that answer questions left hanging by the Standard Model: What, for example, is the dark matter that provides the gravitational scaffolding of galaxies? And why is the universe made of matter instead of antimatter?
For now, some physicists are calling it a “Higgslike” particle. “It’s great to discover a new particle, but you have find out what its properties are,” said John Ellis, a theorist at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.