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Did they or didn’t they? Scientists are in a frenzy today over a rumor that the world’s largest atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), may have just found the long-sought Higgs boson, otherwise known as the “God particle”.
(UPDATE: This was not the God particle after all)
It looks as though a leaked internal memo from physicists at the LHC may have started the rumor. No one seems sure at this point whether or not the memo is the real deal.
Apparently, an anonymous commenter recently posted an abstract of the note on the blog of Columbia University mathematician Peter Woit, Not Even Wrong.
Here is that note:
April 21, 2011 at 12:45 pm
Report number ATL-COM-PHYS-2011-415
Title Observation of a γγ resonance at a mass in the vicinity of 115 GeV/c2 at ATLAS and its Higgs interpretation
Author(s) Fang, Y (-) ; Flores Castillo, L R (-) ; Wang, H (-) ; Wu, S L (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Imprint 21 Apr 2011. – mult. p.
Subject category Detectors and Experimental Techniques
Accelerator/Facility, Experiment CERN LHC ; ATLAS
Free keywords Diphoton ; Resonance ; EWEAK ; HIGGS ; SUSY ; EXOTICS ; EGAMMA
Abstract Motivated by the result of the Higgs boson candidates at LEP with a mass of about 115~GeV/c2, the observation given in ATLAS note ATL-COM-PHYS-2010-935 (November 18, 2010) and the publication “Production of isolated Higgs particle at the Large Hadron Collider Physics” (Letters B 683 2010 354-357), we studied the γγ invariant mass distribution over the range of 80 to 150 GeV/c2. With 37.5~pb−1 data from 2010 and 26.0~pb−1 from 2011, we observe a γγ resonance around 115~GeV/c2 with a significance of 4σ. The event rate for this resonance is about thirty times larger than the expectation from Higgs to γγ in the standard model. This channel H→γγ is of great importance because the presence of new heavy particles can enhance strongly both the Higgs production cross section and the decay branching ratio. This large enhancement over the standard model rate implies that the present result is the first definitive observation of physics beyond the standard model. Exciting new physics, including new particles, may be expected to be found in the very near future.
What’s interesting is that the link presented in the comment requires an actual CERN login to view it.
The claim is later backed up in one of the comments that follows:
Anonymous (but PW can see my details anyway) says:
April 21, 2011 at 3:38 pm
Higgs? is not pulling any leg, the paper is there. Of course the reason there are only few authors and such a strong claim is the same – it’s still an internal publication. And there seems to be some room for discussion about the photon identification methods, but after all that’s why internal notes are internal.
Some are saying that the note is a hoax, while others say the “detection” was just an anomaly. This would be a huge discovery, however, if it holds up.
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The leaked note suggests that the LHC’s ATLAS particle-detection experiment may have picked up a signature of the elusive Higgs boson. The signal is consistent with what the Higgs boson is expected to produce, according to the note.
“If it were to be real, it would be really exciting,” said physicist Sheldon Stone of Syracuse University.
So what is the Higgs boson?
The Higgs boson is a hypothetical massive elementary particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model of particle physics. The existence of the particle is postulated as a means of resolving inconsistencies in current theoretical physics, and attempts are being made to confirm the existence of the particle by experimentation, namely using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN and the Tevatron at Fermilab.
The Higgs boson is the only Standard Model particle that has not been observed in particle physics experiments. It is a consequence of the so-called Higgs mechanism which is the part of the Standard Model that explains how most of the known elementary particles become massive. For example, the Higgs boson would explain the difference between the massless photon, which mediates electromagnetism, and the massive W and Z bosons, which mediate the weak force. If the Higgs boson exists, it is an integral and pervasive component of the material world.
The Higgs boson is often referred to as the “God particle” by the media, after the title of Leon Lederman‘s book, “The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?”.
Regardless of whether the rumor is true or not, the scientific community is abuzz!
Someone over at Slashdot seems willing to back up the claim:
Someone left a copy of the note on the printer in my office building. (I work on CDF at Fermilab, but there are others in the building who work on ATLAS at CERN.) The gist of the article is that they found a bump in the diphoton mass spectrum at a mass of ~115 GeV. If the Higgs exists, it is expected to produce a bump in that spectrum, and 115 GeV is a very probable value for the mass of the Higgs. (Experiments at LEP ruled out masses up to 114 GeV, but a mass as low as possible above that fits best with other measurements.)
“Don’t worry, Higgs boson! I would never spread scurrilous rumors about you. Unlike some people,” Caltech physicist Sean Carroll tweeted.
Tommaso Dorigo, a particle physicist at Fermilab and CERN, believes the signal to be false and that it will fade upon closer analysis.
Dorigo points out that scientists at Fermilab didn’t see the Higgs signal in their data, which covered similar ground as the ATLAS experiment.
He feels strongly enough about it that he’s willing to put up or shut up.
“I bet $1,000 with whomever has a name and a reputation in particle physics (this is a necessary specification, because I need to be sure that the person taking the bet will honor it) that the signal is not due to Higgs boson decays,” he wrote on his blog today. “I am willing to bet that this is NO NEW PARTICLE. Clear enough?”
- Higgs Boson Rumor of the Day (geeks.thedailywh.at)
- Rumors of Higgs Boson Discovery At LHC (science.slashdot.org)
- RAPatton: Higgs boson rumor as elusive as particle itself – Technology & science – Science – LiveScience – msnbc.com (msnbc.msn.com)