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Physicists haven't found the so-called "God particle" (known to the less sensational among us as the Higgs boson) just yet, but two teams have found "intriguing hints" pointing to the existence of the elusive particle that is thought to be a basic building block of the universe.
So what’s the big deal? And what’s with the haughty name?
The Washington Post explains: "[T]his particle—spotted—would all but complete the fundamental theory of particle physics, known as the Standard Model. Confirmation of the Higgs would solve the mystery of why matter has the property that physicists call mass—the resistance to being shoved around."
British physicist Peter Higgs and others theorized the particle’s existence over 40 years ago. Scientists haven’t had the tools or expertise to conclude whether or not it exists until now, and a pair of separate teams have sparked excitement among experts and laymen with early results—the latest of which were unveiled Tuesday—that show small but significant progress toward finally answering the question once and for all.
"The excitement is higher than anything I've seen in high-energy physics in the past 20 years," Joe Lykken, a physicist at the Energy Department’s Fermilab in Illinois, told the Post.
Two separate teams are using the European Organization for Nuclear Research's Large Hadron Collider—a 17-mile circular tunnel underneath the Swiss-French border that is so powerful that it can create conditions that mirror those that followed the theoretical Big Bang—to crash proton beams into each other at incredibly high speeds in hopes of finding the Higgs boson.
The Associated Press explains that scientists believe that only under these conditions can it be created, and only a fraction of the time. Both teams have concluded with some confidence the likely mass of the particle. They hope to reach an ultimate conclusion about whether or not the particle exists by next year.
"But be careful—it's intriguing hints," said Rolf Heuer, director of CERN. "We have not found it yet; we have not excluded it yet."
If scientists prove the Higgs boson exists, and at the mass they predict, it will support other physics theories related to the Big Bang Theory and the general makeup of the universe, says BBC. Those theories, in turn, would predict the existence of other particles that shape our universe.