Weeks of rumors on the science blogs finally came to fruition yesterday when scientists working with the Large Hadron Collider announced that they have discovered a new sub-atomic particle that looks very much like a Higgs Boson.
Of course, they haven’t actually seen a Higgs. You can’t. They’re too small and exist for too short a time. But after smashing a metric schwack of particles* together and examining the energy signals that are being given off from those collisions, they’ve found an energy spike at around the level they expect the Higgs to give off. And, in fact, two separate LHC detectors are picking up the same signal so, apparently, that gives the scientists a 99.9999 per cent confidence that what they’re seeing is a new particle.
But is it the Higgs? Here’s what Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, had to say,
Now technically, that’s all the physicists can say: the particle is definitely there. But is it the Higgs? Well, to be fair, they can’t actually say that. But if it walks like a Higgs, looks like a Higgs, and quacks like a Higgs… yeah.
So there you have it. A new fundamental particle has been found, and if it’s the Higgs – which it really really really looks like it is – is the first step to our truly understanding such basic concepts as mass and gravity in the Universe. It’s technical, and it’s complicated, and it’s the result of a vast amount of time, money, and effort by thousands upon thousands of people… but it’s real.
So. Huzzah. New particle. Probably a Higgs. We grok a little more of how the cosmos works. Yay humans. Gosh, aren’t we clever?
Okay. I have to confess. If you can’t tell from the downcast tone of this blog post, I’m a little disappointed. Personally, I was reeeeeally hoping that when the LHC started smashing bosons around it’d create a mini black hole** that would suck the entire universe into it. I mean, seriously. We all have to go sometime and if you’re going to rank demises on a scale of one to colossal, dying as all reality is siphoned through a rift in the space-time continuum — one that was torn by humanity’s hubris — is pretty much right off the scale.
Or better yet, and less apocalyptically, it’d have been cool if it turned out to be true that some Eschaton AI*** from the future was reaching back in time to thwart the efforts of scientists to probe the mysteries of the cosmos with the LHC and just as the scientist were about to check their Higgs data a platoon of time-bending space… er… chickens? in silver void-suits had jumped through a chrono-vortex and encased the whole of Geneva in a carbon nano-mesh prison.
But no. Sigh. Reality is so boring.
Anyway. If you’re the least bit interested in learning more about the Higgs Boson discovery, I highly recommend reading Phil Plait’s blog post on the subject over at Discover Magazine. And reading all the the links he has to background material is very worthwhile. You’ll learn a metric schwacktonne more than you will reading the Globe’s coverage. They squandered most of their word count discussing what the scientists are wearing. I kid you not.
Like I said. Reality is boring.
* How many sub-atomic particles are there in a metric schwack? Millions? Thousands? Five? I’ll be honest, I have no idea. I’m guessing they had to smash together millions of particles for the observations they’re doing with the LHC but these scientists can be wily and precise bastards. I, however, tend to skim when I’m reading stuff online and it would seem I missed that detail. Hence the vague, hand-wavy schwack unit.
** This was actually predicted by a few science watchdogs.
*** No, seriously. When the LHC was having so many problems when it was starting up, this was posited as an explanation. Because… quantum mechanics!