With all eyes toward Mars these days, it seems like an eternity ago that man discovered one of the fundamental building blocks of the Universe. Sigh, how fleeting and fickle is science. I mean it is almost worse than those many fashion shows on the television. What is that saying…”one day your in, the next your out,” or something like that.
Well now that the Higgs Boson is passe, CERN scientists have a few burning questions about the particle.
The gigantic proton accelerator will be shut down this year, but physicist Paris Sphicas told The Register the boffins should be able to gather enough data about the particle’s properties to tackle two of their conundrums before the big switch off.
For those still baffled by last month’s discovery, the purported sighting of the Higgs boson helps explain how everything around us actually exists. Its own existence suggests that the Higgs field is real and that particles moving through this field gain mass. The boson is therefore vital in propping up the Standard Model, which is modern science’s least incomplete explanation of how the universe works.
However, although the Higgs field in theory gives everything else mass, it doesn’t appear to be giving mass to the boson itself, a mystery that can only be answered with further study of this Higgs-like particle.
In order to confirm the Higgs-like boson is the sought-after elusive elementary particle, it has to have certain properties, such as what particles it decays into and how often it decays into specific particles.
“If the Higgs is the guy who gives mass to everybody then its coupling – in other words the strength with which it engages the other particles – will be proportional to mass,” explained Sphicas, a physicist working on the collider’s general-purpose experiment CMS.
“So if you count how often it goes to particle A, B or C, that frequency should be strictly given by the mass of these particles.”
Another important property of a Higgs boson is how it decays: a uniform manner will indicate the boson has “zero spin”, otherwise it would be all over the place and therefore probably some other particle. The Higgs boson spin has to be zero because of its quantum nature.
“If that angular distribution of the stuff it breaks into is totally spherically symmetric, that would be spin zero. If it’s anything else that would be one of the known particles,” Sphicas said.
These are the answers that CERN hopes to find before the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is powered off and upgraded to 14 teraelectron volts in 2015.
“Already, what we found is a boson, we know it’s a boson, no doubt,” the physicist said.
“What we don’t know is whether it decays isotropically or not, that we will know by the end of the year, or it will be in the data that we collect by the end of the year so it may take a bit longer to get the results.
“The first hint of how often it decays to the different types of particles will also be obtained with the same data that we collect up to the end of the year. And the reason is that we will have enough events to see the new boson not just in the two channels we saw it in so far but also in a few others,” he added.
So surely that’ll be it, then: the spin is shown to be zero and the mass-giving mechanism checked, telling the boffins this is the Higgs boson. But actually, no, as Sphicas puts it, if this boson is the Higgs, that’s the point at which the fun really starts.
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– Ex astris, scientia –