The big buzz in the science world is that researchers from the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, are on the verge of announcing their most compelling proof yet that the Higgs boson particle exists. Nicknamed the "God particle," the Higgs is theorized to exist in between a very specific set of frequencies, and is described as the invisible glue that binds the universe together. When paired with gravity, the subatomic particle is said to be the magic ingredient that gives everyday objects their weight. Two teams of CERN researchers, nicknamed ATLAS and CMS, have worked independently to make sure the findings are accurate. While the scientific threshold for labeling new findings in the world of physics a "discovery" is quite high, the two teams are at the point where combining data would offer a high degree of certainty that the particle has been found. It's like finding the fossilized imprint of a dinosaur, researcher Rob Roser tells The Associated Press: "You see the footprints and the shadow of the object, but you don't actually see" the dinosaur itself. A special announcement is set to be made on Wednesday. What does the Higgs' apparent discovery mean? Here, three talking points:
1. The origin of mass would finally be explained
Pinpointing the Higgs' frequency would help explain the origin of mass, "one of the open questions in physicists' current understanding of the way the universe works," says CNN. The particle is associated with something called the Higgs field, which is theorized to blanket the entire universe. According to scientific theory, as other particles move through the Higgs field they acquire mass — "much as swimmers moving through a pool get wet," says LiveScience. This "wetness" is what imbues objects with their weight.
2. Our current understanding of physics would be confirmed
"Since the mid-20th century, particle physicists have been developing a theory known as the Standard Model, which accounts for all the known forces and subatomic particles in the universe," says Adam Mann at Wired. But because the Higgs has so far only been a theory, it's served more as a placeholder in the Standard Model. If its existence is confirmed on Wednesday, by all indications the Higgs will weigh in at 125 gigaelectronvolts (geV), meaning "it sits exactly where the Standard Model expected it to be." Finding it would be a "triumph," says Michael Hanlon at Britain's Daily Mail. "Nobels all round. Physics is 'safe,' at least from being found to be completely wrong."
3. The $10 billion Large Hadron Collider would be validated
Atom smashing is an expensive, time-consuming business. The Large Hadron Collider, the 16-mile particle accelerator buried 300 feet underground on the border of Switzerland and France, was first conceived in the 1980s and took 10 years to complete, from 1998 to 2008. Finding the Higgs would justify the machine's considerable $10 billion price tag and validate countless hours spent poring through data from trillions of atom smashes. "If we make such an important discovery about the universe, it's a justification for why we should be investing in these machines," says Joao Guimaraes da Costa of the ATLAS team.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- How Israel's hawks intimidated and silenced the last remnants of the anti-war left
- The real lesson of Rick Perry's mug shot
- Welcome to the age of ambivalent feminism
- Why China thinks it could defeat the U.S. in battle
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- The Catholic case for military strikes in Iraq
- What the 'death of the library' means for the future of books
- Making officers more diverse isn't enough to stop police violence
- How Ferguson made conservatives lose faith in the police
Subscribe to the Week