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Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Higgs Boson Found. A Major Scientific Breakthrough

Hello Troops,

You may have overhead people on the news talking about a hugh discovery made at the CERN underground atom smasher complex spanning the border between Switzerland and France.  The CERN scientists say they are 99% sure they've found one of science's Holy Grails - the Higgs Boson particle.

"So What?" I hear you thinking.  You've got other things on your mind, like when are you going to get to go to the Space Center again.  While I applaud your priorities, I urge you to take a moment to applaud the work done at CERN and understand the significance to you and the world.

What is the Higgs Boson you ask?  I turn to Nick Collins, The Telegraph's Science Correspondent to help answer your question 

What is the Higgs boson and the Higgs field?
The Higgs field has been described as a kind of cosmic "syrup" spread through the universe.
According to Prof Higgs's 1964 theory, the field interacts with the tiny particles that make up atoms, and weighs them down so that they do not simply whizz around space at the speed of light.
But in the half-century following the theory, produced independently by the six scientists within a few months of each other, nobody has been able to prove that the Higgs Field really exists.
So, we are talking about a field of energy surrounding everything in the universe.
Subatomic particles slow down from light speed as they move through the field.  This drag gives them mass.  Mass leads to attraction (they're moving slow enough to get a good look at each other and 'hook up'. The particles start clumping together forming atomic neutrons, protons and electrons which in turn form atoms which in turn form molecules which in turn make matter and US.

Nick Collins continues...
What would the world be like without the Higgs boson?
According to the Standard Model theory, it would not be recognisable. Without something to give mass to the basic building blocks of matter, everything would behave as light does, floating freely and not combining with other particles. Ordinary matter, as we know it, would not exist.

How long has the search gone on?
Scientists have been looking for the Higgs since the 1960s, but the search began in earnest more than 20 years ago with early experiments at Cern in Europe and Fermilab in the US.

Does finding the Higgs boson mark the end of the search?
It's just the end of the beginning. Confirming the existence of the Higgs would only be the start of a new era of particle physics as scientists focus on understanding how it works and look for unexpected phenomena.

How do you find a Higgs boson?
To find the particle and characterise it, scientists must first try to create it by smashing beams of protons together inside the Large Hadron Collider at close to the speed of light and analysing the debris.
By doing so they will essentially be recreating a very small model of the state of the Universe as it was in the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.
Some of the fragments released by the collision should in theory be Higgs Bosons, although they will instantly deteriorate into even smaller, more stable subatomic particles.
Like other heavy particles, the Higgs decays into lighter particles, which then decay into even lighter ones. The process can follow a certain number of paths, which depend on the particle's mass.
Physicists compare the decay paths they observe after a particle collision to predicted decay paths simulated with computers. When a match is found, it suggests that the observed particle is the one being searched for.

How is the Higgs boson related to the Big Bang?
About 13.7 billion years ago, the Big Bang gave birth to the universe and caused an outburst of massless particles and radiation energy. Scientists think that fractions of a second later, part of the radiation energy congealed into the Higgs field.
When the universe began to cool, particles acquired mass from the Higgs field, slowed down and began to bunch up to form composite particles and, eventually, atoms.
Conditions present a billionth of a second after the Big Bang are recreated in the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator near Geneva.
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