In one of the last updates before the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) shuts down until 2015, CERN has announced that its observation of the Higgs boson (or a particle that is Higgs-like) is now approaching 7 sigma certainty.
5 sigma — 99.9999% certainty... — is the threshold for an observation to be labeled a scientific discovery. CERN crossed the 5 sigma threshold this summer. At 7 sigma, both the CMS and ATLAS teams are reporting that there’s only a 0.0000000001% chance that they haven’t found a Higgs-like particle.
...all they know is that they’ve found a particle, with a mass of around 125 GeV, that behaves as predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics... further analysis (due in 2013) will now focus on the particle’s spin, and other properties. Eventually, perhaps after upgrades are completed and the LHC turns back on in 2015, the particle will be officially announced as the Higgs boson (or not, which would be much more interesting).
...In other news, CERN says that it has observed the decay of the Bs meson (strange B meson) into two muons. Apparently this is one of the rarest processes ever observed in particle physics, which means it’s a good chance that it could lead to new science.
What is the Higgs Boson? I can best liken it to a Rosetta Stone of physics:
If we do find it, we’ll know that we have the right idea about how particles acquire mass — as in, how photons, riding on beams of light, have no mass at all, while the W and Z bosons (two particles that govern the “weak force,” one of the fundamental forces that keep atoms together) have the masses that they do, and why other subatomic particles have the weights that they have.
English physicist Peter Higgs theorized that a lattice-like field enmeshes the universe. This field explains nothing less important than mass itself. In short, discovering the Higgs Boson explains why everything in the universe has mass.
Like I said, this is serious.
Hat tip: BadBlue Tech News.