The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland has been, among other things, searching for the Higgs boson, the 'God particle,' which would explain how particles acquire mass. I am quite flattened with flu, so I'm just throwing some pieces of the story up here. The video above, from London's Channel 4 TV News, is a good overview. Follow the breadcrumbs...
A rumor has gone viral in the physics community that the world's largest atom smasher may have detected a long-sought subatomic particle called the Higgs boson, also known as the "God particle," based on an anonymous commentor posted an abstract of a leaked note on Columbia University physicist, Peter Woit's blog, Not Even Wrong.
The controversial rumor is based on what appears to be a leaked internal note from physicists at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile-long particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland. It's not certain at this point if the memo is authentic, or what the data it refers to might mean -- but the note has sent the physics community into full buzz mode.
Someone left a copy of the note on the printer in my office building. (I work on CDF at Fermilab, but there are others in the building who work on ATLAS at CERN.) The gist of the article is that they found a bump in the diphoton mass spectrum at a mass of ~115 GeV. If the Higgs exists, it is expected to produce a bump in that spectrum, and 115 GeV is a very probable value for the mass of the Higgs. (Experiments at LEP ruled out masses up to 114 GeV, but a mass as low as possible above that fits best with other measurements.)
Now, the inconsistencies: The bump that they found is ~30 times as large as the Higgs mass peak is expected to be. However, due to field theory that I don't want to get into here, the Higgs peak in this spectrum could be larger than expected if there exist new, heavy particles that we haven't discovered yet. The latest published result from CDF sets a limit of about 30 times the expected rate at 115 GeV in the diphoton channel. (Yes, this means that, if you're optimistic enough, there's just enough wiggle room to fit a Higgs in there while accommodating both measurements.)
The internal note is very preliminary and uses a crude background estimate; I'll have to see a more thorough analysis before I make any judgment on it. We shouldn't have to wait very long; I expect that after this leak, they'll be working overtime to push out a full published result as soon as possible.
ATLAS' spokeswoman Fabiola Gianotti stops short of disowning the leaked document, but tells Nature signals of the kind reported in the memo show up quite frequently in the course of data analysis and are later falsified after more detailed scrutiny. "Only official ATLAS results, i.e. results that have undergone all the necessary scientific checks by the Collaboration, should be taken seriously," she says.