"We Have Observed A New Particle Consistent With The Higgs Boson"

Comic from Abstruse Goose

Yesterday, an important announcement was made by researchers at CERN. It's not "neutrinos travel faster then the speed of light, there by ushering in a new kind of physics" big, but it's pretty damned big.

Two, independent projects have announced results consistent with the Higgs boson.

What is the Higgs boson? Well, in simple terms, it is a subatomic particle that the data predicted gives mass to other, subatomic elementary particles. That is does that is actually an indirect result of its own existence, but it is one of the ways that scientists were able to predict that it exists. Trouble being, it exists for only short periods of time, and is very (very) difficult to detect while it does exist. And the only time they exist is when particles collide at high energies. Basically, smash particles together at subliminal speeds, and in the resulting mess of energy and subatomic particles, somewhere is the Higgs. Then, like Keyser Soze, it's gone.

So, how do we detect it? Well, like all things in the universe, it has energy. And that energy cannot be created or destroyed, merely transferred. Which means, when the Higgs self detonates, the energy explodes outwards in what CERN researchers were hoping would be an easily detectable, and characteristic way. They were right on the latter, just not on the former.

Once you see it, you'll shit bricks
 For more complex descriptions of what the Higgs does, and how they found it go here, here, here, and here.

There are a couple of things that are important here. One, science is, and forever shall be, our friend when we trust it. Humans make errors, yes. But the evidence, the mathematical and theoretical proof that the Higgs existed was pretty strong. Strong enough for a decade's worth of work in the largest particle collider in the world to be devoted to finding it. Because we said it should be there, that it not being there made no sense, and that if it wasn't there, then we made a big mistake somewhere down the line. But that doesn't mean that the journey to finding it would be easy. Yesterday was the vindication of 10 years of work at CERN, but the culmination of a life's work for Peter Higgs, for whom the particle is named, and whom Stephen Hawking has suggested should win the Noble prize following this announcement. And back further, to other scientists on whom Higgs based his work, who all looked at the data, and said, "there should be something else here."

Second, today (yesterday, and every day from here on out) is a good day. It is a day when science should be at the front of everyone's mind, and that we should marvel at both the intricate nature of the universe, and at our ability to comprehend even a slice of it. We're a bunch of fleshy meat sacks, and we have torn asunder the veil of the universe, and gazed into it, and said "so that's how that works." Today is a day to be humbled at our abilities. And yet, it's a day few will remember. Like the day they split the atom, or the day they found the first exoplanet, eventually it will just be a thing that happened that we take for granted. It will be commonplace, it will become part of the total knowledge of our species. It will eventually be a multiple choice question on an exam. But today, we get to be mighty.

Today is not a day for Batman. Today is a day for Science.

Finally, never, ever, use the phrase "God particle." That is the sort of lazy bullshit the news comes up with when they have no idea what the hell they are talking about.

Via Cosmic Variance and The Bad Astronomer.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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