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If CERN announces Higgs boson Wednesday, they might say this

July 03, 2012|By Thomas H. Maugh II
  • A proton-proton collision in a CERN experiment produces four high-energy muons (red lines). The event shows characteristics expected from the decay of a Higgs boson.
A proton-proton collision in a CERN experiment produces four high-energy… (CERN )

In the midst of the media frenzy surrounding Wednesday's potential announcement by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) of the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle, a British newspaper has posted a CERN video apparently announcing the "discovery." A CERN spokesman, however, said that the leaked video is just one of several that the lab prepared to cover all possibilities. The video posted by the Telegraph, said a CERN spokesman, "went live on the Internet due to a technical fault."

Even if the announcement is made, it will still be considered "extremely preliminary," CERN spokesman Joe Incandela says in the video. "What we've looked for is a few grains on a beach, in one sense. I did some calculations, and if you replaced every event, every collision of the beams that we've scanned or had take place in our experiment over the last two years, if you let each one of those be represented by a grain of sand, you'd have enough sand to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. And the number of events that we've collected that we claim represent this observation are on the order of tens, or dozens. So it's an incredibly difficult task, and it takes a lot of care and cross-checking."

The search for the Higgs boson, which has become a kind of holy grail for physicists, was one of the main reasons for the construction of CERN's Large Hadron Collider on the border of France and Switzerland. The Higgs boson, named after physicist Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh, is a key component of the so-called Standard Model, which theorists developed early in the 20th century to understand the basic functioning of our universe. Higgs and others suggested that the universe is pervaded by an invisible, massless substance. Particles passing through it collect small bits  to acquire weight. Without it, there would be no mass to hold the universe together. Higgs proposed that the right kind of high-energy collision of certain elementary particles could yield a representative of this background substance, which came to be known as the Higgs boson.

At least two groups of experimenters at the collider believe they have seen evidence of the particle, but the evidence has not been sufficiently definitive for them to announce the discovery with confidence.

Researchers from the lab are expected to make an announcement of some sort Tuesday night at midnight PDT at the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Melbourne, Australia. Some commenters believe  they will announce they have found the particle, while others think they will announce a different discovery. We'll have more Wednesday.

Meanwhile, physicists working with the Tevatron accelerator at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., said Monday that they had also found some evidence for the existence of the Higgs boson. Stay tuned ...

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Twitter/@LATMaugh

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