So, after (literally) days of fevered speculation, CERN physicists have announced that they found something that seems to be the Higgs boson – the most famous thing that may, or may not have existed (thus bumping whether or not Justin Bieber has talent into the top spot – physicists don't anticipate that this will be found).
At the Large Hadron Collider, two experiments have been bent to task of locating the Higgs – CMS and ATLAS – and both have detected signals in their data that suggest the presence of a particle that weighs in at about 125-126 GeV – about 130 times heavier than a proton.
At CMS, the team have “attained a confidence level” just shy of the golden “five sigma” level of certainty – with one data set reaching five sigma (a one-in-3.5 million chance they are wrong) and the combined result hitting 4.9 sigma (a one-in-two million chance).
The discovery can be seen as a vindication for the hugely expensive and massively ambitious LHC project, which was built to find the Higgs at a cost of $10bn (it can do other stuff too by the way).
The Higgs boson was summoned into theoretical existence in the 1960s to plug a hole in a theory that was almost perfect – the ‘standard model’ of particle physics.
Infographic: The Standard Model of particle physics (click to make massive)
The standard model has been hugely successful – it can provide explanations and make predictions about how the counter-intuitive quantum world of particles works. But it couldn’t explain one thing – why the universe has mass (it also can’t explain dark energy and dark matter... but you can’t have it all).
This was a crucial omission because, without mass, their is no gravity and, without gravity, the roiling soup of particles spat out by the Big Bang would never have coalesced to form the stars and planets – neither you, me or anything else would exist.
The Higgs boson is seen as the answer to this problem. It is the physical emissary of a all-pervading field that interacts with matter to give it the mass that the universe so desperately needs.
Just a word of caution – just because physicists have found what appears to be the Higgs boson, it doen't mean it is what they were expecting... much more investigation will be required.