If you’ve ever listened to StarTalk radio, then you’ll know that its host, famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, definitely has a sense of humour.
His humour was not lost on Business Insider when we asked him in a recent interview about his favourite science joke.
DeGrasse Tyson first heard this joke first told by science comedian Brian Malow.
Here’s how it starts:
“A Higgs boson walks into a church.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “Higgs boson,” you might know it by another name: the “God” particle.
(No self-respecting scientist would ever call it this, but that hasn’t stopped media outlets from preserving the term.)
In order to get the joke, you must first understand the Higgs.
A Higgs boson is a type of subatomic particle that’s about 100 times smaller than a proton. Scientists used the world’s most powerful particle accelerator to see it for the first time in 2012, and their discovery was awarded the Physics Nobel the following year.
The reason this discovery was Nobel-worthy is because Higgs bosons come with a special ability: They help give other subatomic particles their mass. Without the discovery of a Higgs boson, physicists would not understand how particles, like those that make up you, me, and the billions of galaxies in the universe, could exist.
Back to the joke:
“Higgs boson walks into a church, and the priest says, ‘I’m sorry we don’t allow Higgs bosons to come to churches.’ And [the Higgs] says, ‘But without me, you can’t have mass.'”
Just to make sure this joke is politically correct, deGrasse Tyson mentioned that he’s tested this joke on a Jesuit priest. “He said it was cool, so that gives us total clearance,” Tyson said with a laugh.
This joke is particularly timely because the machine that first detected a Higgs boson in 2012, the Large Hadron Collider, is scheduled to turn back on — after two years of heavy maintenance — by the end of this month.
By mid-summer the LHC should be at max power, which is twice the power it operated at during its first run from 2009 through 2012. Physicists hope to explore the properties of Higgs bosons in more detail as well as discover some more never-before-seen particles like those that physicists think make up the mysterious material called dark matter.
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