New results coming from the Large Hadron Collider suggest that the hunt for the Higgs Boson, the particle that gives matter mass and holds the physical fabric of the universe together, really is over.One Higgs-hunting team at CERN on the Swiss-French border reports a “5.9 sigma” levels of certainty it exists.
In laymans terms that equates to a one-in-550 million chance that the Higgs does not exist and the results are statistical flukes.
Particle physics has an accepted definition for a “discovery” which is a five-sigma level of certainty or above.
The number of standard deviations, or sigmas, is a measure of how unlikely it is that an experimental result is simply down to chance rather than a real effect
Similarly, tossing a coin and getting a number of heads in a row may just be chance, rather than a sign of a “loaded” coin
The “three sigma” level represents about the same likelihood of tossing more than eight heads in a row.
Five sigma, on the other hand, would correspond to tossing more than 20 in a row.
Now that two sets of results seem to confirm its existence it is becoming more of a certainty.
Accelerators like the LHC smash together particles at extraordinary energies in a bid to create a Higgs, which should exist only for a fleeting fraction of a second before decaying into other particles or flashes of light that can be caught and counted.
The findings only shore up a result that, as far as physicists were concerned, had already passed muster for declaring the existence of a new particle.
However, many questions remain as to whether the particle is indeed the long-sought Higgs boson; the announcement was carefully phrased to describe a “Higgs-like” particle.
More analyses will be needed to ensure it fits neatly into the Standard Model – the most complete theory we have for particles and forces – as it currently exists.
Last month’s result had a 5 signma which meant they were 99.999% sure they have found a new particle.
Finding the Higgs plugs a gaping hole in the Standard Model, the theory that describes all the particles, forces and interactions that make up the universe.
If the particle was shown not to exist, it would have meant tearing up the Standard Model and going back to the drawing board.
The Higgs boson is the final piece of the Standard Model of Particle Physics, a theoretical model which describes the fundamental particles and forces that control our Universe.
It was first theorised in the 1960s by Edinburgh-based physicist Peter Higgs, amongst others, and is credited for giving all other particles mass. But until now, it has proved impossible to pin down.
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