Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/GettyImages
After days of leaks and rumors it’s official: scientists at Europe’s CERN research center have found a subatomic particle that very much looks like the Higgs boson. They couldn’t quite affirm they had discovere it, but you wouldn't have known it from the cheers, standing ovations, and general jubilant atmosphere that gave the CERN auditorium the atmosphere of a rock concert, as one physicist tells the New York Times.
For those who lined up for hours for a chance to get into the Geneva auditorium there was certainly little doubt about the importance of this morning’s announcement. Yet Rolf Heuer, director of CERN made it clear that while the newly discovered subatomic particle is a boson, he couldn’t quite say it is THE Higgs boson—“an extremely fine distinction,” explains the Associated Press.
Scientists really don’t like it when you call the Higgs boson, the “God particle,” but it’s little wonder that’s how it’s popularly known. (For the record, it’s called that because publishers thought it’d be a marketable title for a book, notes the Telegraph.) After all, physicists have long theorized the Higgs boson is “so fundamental that without it, nothing could exist,” explains the Washington Post. Essentially, the Standard Model, which has ruled physics for almost half a century, states that the Higgs field is what weighs down particles and gives them mass so they’re not just bouncing around at the speed of light. And the Higgs boson “is the only visible and particular manifestation” of that “invisible force field,” writes the Times. (Video embedded below does a good job of explaining how the whole thing works.)
Peter Higgs, the 83-year-old physicist who theorized of the existence of the Higgs boson in the 1960s, was at CERN and wiped away a tear as he heard the news, according to the BBC. “It’s an incredible thing that it has happened in my lifetime,” he said.
It’s particularly significant because the Higgs particle is really the “last undiscovered piece of the Standard Model,” as Reuters explains. Yet all this talk about the Higgs ignores the fact that scientists don’t yet know whether what they discovered is the Higgs boson or merely a variation. Although it may seem counterintuitive, it would be far more exciting for the scientists if it were a variation of the Higgs idea or even a whole new subatomic particle, which could lead to an entirely new way of thinking of how matter is structured.
“The dream is to find an ultimate theory that explains everything,” said Fabiola Gianotti, the head of one of the two CERN teams. “We are far from that.”