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Scientists announced today that the Higgs boson -- or a new subatomic particle like it -- appears to indeed be real. The hunt for the Higgs boson has been an intense one, for its absence could have single-handedly destroyed whatever certainty scientists had about our current descriptions of the Universe's inner-workings.
The Higgs boson (sensationally referred to as the "God particle" by some) is a subatomic particle which is thought to give everything in the universe its mass. Mass is a physical property which gives matter its weight here on Earth and other bodies which exert gravity.
In order to confirm our observations and validate descriptions of our how physicists believe our reality works, many scientists think mass is the result of a field (i.e. Higgs field) which permeates our Universe. The various subatomic particles which make up our existence drag through this field, creating mass. According to some models, the Higgs is a necessary component to this field so there is a lot riding on the discovery of this particle.
It is important to note that scientists technically still aren't absolutely sure the Higgs (or a particle like it) exists -- they are only 99.99999999999 percent certain. That's about as close to certain as one can get, right? There's also no guarantee this is the Higgs and not some exotic, never-before-seen particle with a similar mass.
"We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV. The outstanding performance of the LHC and ATLAS and the huge efforts of many people have brought us to this exciting stage, but a little more time is needed to prepare these results for publication. The results are preliminary but the 5 sigma signal at around 125 GeV we’re seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found,"
Such tiny particles are often not directly observable, are extremely fleeting and require very special circumstances to both appear and be detected. Under very exact conditions, particles like the Higgs boson only become palpable in our reality for the tiniest fractions of a second, so scientists often use indirect methods of observation. They measure the energies produced during particle collisions, the byproducts of the collision and other data collected by collision detectors, ultimately allowing scientists to piece together the larger puzzle. Naturally, there's some room for uncertainty but it seems scientists are very, very sure about this one.
The next step will be to determine the properties of the newly-found boson. Was it actually the Higgs or merely an exotic particle with similar mass? Only more collisions, research and analysis will tell us for sure.
Almost everything you'd want to know about the Higgs, in simple English. The good stuff starts 45 secs in.
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