Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research have narrowed the range where the hypothetical “God particle” created at the beginning of the universe may be found, closing in on evidence of its existence.
The particle, also known as Higgs boson, most likely has a mass in the region between 116 and 130 gigaelectronvolts of energy being studied by one research team and between 115 and 127 gigaelectronvolts under observation by another team, according to data presented today by the Geneva-based research institute. Independent measurements point to a range of 124 to 126 gigaelectronvolts, researchers said.
The Higgs boson, named after U.K. physicist Peter Higgs, in theory allows other particles to have mass. Finding the Higgs boson could be a gateway to discovering new physics, such as superparticles or dark matter, part of the universe’s building material that went missing at the beginning of time. While the scientists found “tantalizing hints” of the particle, it’s too early to say whether it exists, the scientists said.
“We cannot conclude anything at this stage,” said Fabiola Gianotti, a spokeswoman for the institute’s ATLAS experiment, one of the two research teams. “We need more study and more data. We will not need to wait long for enough data and can look forward to resolving this puzzle in 2012.”
Scientists at the research institute, also known as CERN, are using the Large Hadron Collider, a 27-kilometer (17-mile) circuit of magnets running under the French-Swiss border, to smash beams of atomic particles and record the resulting collisions. The researchers have been creating conditions as close as possible to the so-called Big Bang that formed the universe 13.7 billion years ago in their search for the Higgs boson.
“Higgs bosons, if they exist, are very short-lived and can decay in many different ways,” CERN said in a statement. “Discovery relies on observing the particles they decay into, rather than the Higgs itself.”
Both groups exclude a broad range of possible Higgs masses, from 115 to 600 times the weight of a proton, Lawrence Sulak, chairman emeritus of Boston University’s physics department, said via e-mail.
"The significance of the hints reported today could turn into proof beyond a doubt come next October," Sulak said.
If the researchers don’t find the particle by the end of next year, they will exclude its existence, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director-general of CERN, told reporters in Geneva in October. Failing to find the Higgs boson would lend credibility to alternate theories that explain the mechanism that allows particles to have mass.
The results of further experiments will have implications for theories on dark matter, which makes up about 23 percent of the universe. Such research could help scientists gain a better understanding of the universe and how galaxies hold together, according to CERN.
CERN said in September that an experiment showed a neutrino beam appears to have moved faster than the speed of light. The finding, if confirmed, would contradict Albert Einstein, who said nothing can exceed light speed.
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