The most coveted prize in particle physics – the Higgs boson – may have been glimpsed, say researchers reporting at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva.
The particle is purported to be the means by which everything in the Universe obtains its mass.
Scientists say that two experiments at the LHC see hints of the Higgs at the same mass, fuelling huge excitement.
But the LHC does not yet have enough data to claim a discovery.
Finding the Higgs would be one of the biggest scientific advances of the last 60 years. It is crucial for allowing us to make sense of the Universe, but has never been observed by experiments.
This basic building block of the Universe is a significant missing component of the Standard Model – the “instruction booklet” that describes how particles and forces interact.
Two separate, enormous experiments at the LHC – Atlas and CMS – have been conducting independent searches for the Higgs.
Because the Standard Model does not predict an exact mass for the Higgs, physicists have to use particle accelerators like the LHC to systematically look for it across a broad search area.
The rumours suggest that both Atlas and CMS see a data “spike” at the mass of 125 Gigaelectronvolts (GeV; this is about 130 times heavier than the protons found in the nuclei of atoms).
However, the statistical certainty of their measurement is still too low to claim a formal “discovery”, which will require further experiments and analysis.
Nevertheless, the results have generated enormous excitement among particle physicists.
Prof Stefan Soldner-Rembold, from the University of Manchester, called the quality of the LHC’s results “exceptional”, adding: “Within one year we will probably know whether the Higgs particle exists, but it is likely not going to be a Christmas present.”
So what does this all mean? Not a lot for the next 1000 years.