The Higgs boson has been glimpsed by boffins at CERN who are now much closer to pinning down the particle after crunching through hundreds of gigabytes of raw data.
Previous work at CERN over the summer had whittled down the mass range in which the Higgs was most likely to be found, with the results presented by Fabiola Gianotta today narrowing the band even further. The Higgs has been dubbed the god particle because its existence could help explain why some particles have mass and thus explain the fabric of the universe.
Gianotta reported that the results allow them to restrict the mass region they are searching in to a band between 115.5 and 131 GeV. The Higgs hunters are 95 per cent confident it will be found in that range.
In particular she noted an "excess of events" at 126GeV and pointed to that mass as the most likely place to find the Higgs.
CERN gave the 126GeV mass a probability of 2.3 sigma (a measurement of statistical probability). A probability of 5 sigma is needed to be taken as conclusive proof.
The spike in the data which scientists are investigating as the the most likely manifestation of the Higgs - could simply be fluctuation of background radiation. If it is just background fluctuation it will take a lot of data to kill it, the physicist said.
"I think it would be extremely kind of the Higgs Boson to be there," Gianotta concluded.
5 inverse femtobarns (fb-1) of data have been processed to create these results, however 20 fb-1 is needed before CERN can declare a statistical probability that would be accepted as proof of the Higgs boson's existence. Welcome to theoretical physics. ®
The concluding slide from Gianotta's presentation. Note use of Comic Sans
CERN's particle-smashing spinners have claimed in a later announcement: "Whether ATLAS and CMS show over the coming months that the Standard Model Higgs boson exists or not, the LHC programme is opening the way to new physics."