Physics Community Afire With Rumors of Higgs Boson Discovery | Wired Science

One of the biggest debuts in the science world could happen in a matter of weeks: The Higgs boson may finally, really have been discovered.

Ever since tantalizing hints of the Higgs turned up in December at the Large Hadron Collider, scientists there have been busily analyzing the results of their energetic particle collisions to further refine their search.

“The bottom line though is now clear: There’s something there which looks like a Higgs is supposed to look,” wrote mathematician Peter Woit on his blog, Not Even Wrong. According to Woit, there are rumors of new data that would be the most compelling evidence yet for the long-sought Higgs.

The possible news has a number of physics bloggers speculating that LHC scientists will announce the discovery of the Higgs during the International Conference on High Energy Physics, which takes place in Melbourne, Australia, July 4 to 11.

The new buzz is just the latest in the Higgs search drama. In December, rumors circulated regarding hints of the Higgs around 125 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), roughly 125 times the mass of a proton. While those rumors eventually turned out to be true, the hard data only amounted to what scientists call a 3-sigma signal, meaning that there is a 0.13 percent probability that the events happened by chance. This is the level at which particle physicists will only say they have “evidence” for a particle.

In the rigorous world of high-energy physics, researchers wait to see a 5-sigma signal, which has only a 0.000028 percent probability of happening by chance, before claiming a “discovery.”

The latest Higgs rumors suggest nearly-there 4-sigma signals are turning up at both of the two separate LHC experiments that are hunting for the particle. As physicist Philip Gibbs points out on his blog, Vixra log, if each experiment is seeing a 4-sigma signal, then this is almost definitely the long-sought particle. Combining the two 4-sigma results should be enough to clear that 5-sigma hurdle.

Of course, Gibbs reminds us that the rumors come with some caveats, such as the fact that they are vague and not completely reliable. Scientists outside the experiment also don’t yet know how much data has been analyzed from this year, meaning that the rumored results could disappear with further scrutiny.

The Higgs boson is the final piece of the Standard Model — a framework developed in the late 20th century that describes the interactions of all known subatomic particles and forces. The Standard Model contains many other particles — such as quarks and W bosons — each of which has been found in the last four decades using enormous particle colliders, but the Higgs remains to be found. The Higgs boson is critical to the Standard Model, because interacting with the Higgs is what gives all the other particles their mass. Not finding it would severely undermine our current understanding of the universe.

While discovery of the Higgs would be a remarkable achievement, many researchers are also eager to hear the details from the experiments, which may indicate that the Higgs boson has slightly different properties than those theoretically predicted. Any deviations from theory could suggest the existence of heretofore-unknown physics beyond the Standard Model, including models such as supersymmetry, which posits a heavier partner to all known particles.

Image: A disk full of silicon sensors that sits as an endcap on ATLAS, one of the LHC experiments searching for the Higgs boson. Peter Ginter/ATLAS collaboration/CERN

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