Update on the Higgs Boson Search at CERN: Close, Encouraging, But No Cigar – Yet

Jesus in a jumpsuit!  How did we miss CERN’s announcement last week that they are almost certain that they have, in fact, discovered the Higgs Boson with the Large Hadron Collider?

It wasn’t until today that we stumbled across this article from – of all places! – Voice of America news!  “Scientists Confirm Higgs Boson Discovery” it says!  WTF?  How did that pig fly under our radar?

Well, thank the gods, it wasn’t – quite – true.   In fact – while it does appear that a Higgs Boson has been discovered, it is not quite the Higgs Boson predicted by the Standard Model of physics.  In fact, some measurements of the key parameters of this new particle appear to be around 2 standard deviations away from what was predicted by the Standard Model.

Which is both good news and maybe even better news because the exhaustive assessment of the data obtained from the Large Hadron Collider in Europe just presented to a physics conference in Italy –  Recontres de Moriond  – may be indications of either a yet-unspecified type of Higgs or something not predicted by the Standard Model – which would be really cool, too.  But it’s probably the Standard Model Higgs.  Or maybe not.

THIS is why we didn’t hear about this new “confirmation of the discovery of the Higgs Boson” announcement from CERN – they never made such an announcement.  They are scientists – and not just scientists – physicists!   And not just physicists but particle physicists!   These folk do not run around making grandiose claims without solid evidence to back it up;  and the evidence is encouraging but a bit unclear at this point.  If you go to CERN’s website you’ll notice that this “major announcement” isn’t even on their homepage – it’s under “Past Updates”.    Their article, released on 14 March, 2013 was entitled (read this carefully):  “New results indicate that new particle is a Higgs boson”.

Did you see the difference between this headline and the VOA’s headline?  CERN’s saying that the new particle is “a Higgs Boson”  not “the Higgs boson”  predicted by the Standard Model (SM).  Check out the difference between how cautious scientists are in making their world-shaking announcements as opposed to the usual bombast of the capitalist news media:

“At the Moriond Conference today, the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) presented preliminary new results that further elucidate the particle discovered last year. Having analysed two and a half times more data than was available for the discovery announcement in July, they find that the new particle is looking more and more like a Higgs boson, the particle linked to the mechanism that gives mass to elementary particles. It remains an open question, however, whether this is the Higgs boson of the Standard Model of particle physics, or possibly the lightest of several bosons predicted in some theories that go beyond the Standard Model. Finding the answer to this question will take time.”  [Source: CERN]

Got that?  The new discovery doesn’t fit the theoretical predictions of the Standard Model like a “lead-pipe cinch”, so the team has to go back and re-analyze their work again… and maybe even wait for a couple more years to acquire more precise data from the ATLAS experiment in order to determine the exact nature of this new discovery.  THAT’s how the best science works: through painstaking incremental acquisition of new data and then the careful analysis of that data… and then if there’s any doubt at all as to what has been found, the world just has to wait for more research to be done before any major “discoveries” can be announced.  And, somewhat frustratingly, since the LHC is now shut down until 2015 while it is upgraded – that’s right: upgraded! – in order “to correct some flaws in the original design”, it will be no sooner than 2015 that the next “run” of the LHC can take place.  The upgrades are designed to enable the collider to operate at nearly twice the energy it operates at now, and that added precision of this amazing scientific instrument will hopefully lay to rest the ambiguities of the current data set.

In our somewhat hasty and frenzied search to try to figure out how we missed out on the announcement of one of the most important scientific stories of the past million years, we came across some more very interesting articles on this latest information re: the Higgs, which we will  now share with you.

One of the editors at “Scientific American”, Michael Moyer,  had an excellent article on the latest from CERN on his blog:

“It’s Official: We’ve Found the Higgs Boson – But Which One?”

Mr. Moyer also quite nicely pointed his readers in the direction of this slide presentation on the new findings (given to a conference held in February 2013 at the University of Toyama, Japan) from American scientist Howard E. Haber of UC Santa Cruz:

“Alternative futures for the Higgs Data: Are we approaching or receding from the decoupling limit?” by Howard E. Haber of the University of California at Santa Cruz

Now, that little document  – unless you are a theoretical physicist, that is – will probably set your head a-spinning like a… well, like something other than a Higgs Boson, apparently.  At least it did that to us.  But it’s instructive to read this document and try to glean as much information from it as you can with whatever level of  science education you possess.

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