FromQuarkstoQuasars

A Hiccup in the Higgs?

Joshua FilmerApril 30th 2014
Image Credit: Unknown
Image Credit: Unknown

As most of you know, scientists have been using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to narrow in on the elusive boson known as the Higgs. Recently, scientists have announced an irregularity in their findings.

In order to learn about the properties of the Higgs boson, scientists must conduct their experiments over and over again. Here, they are able to collect a large body of information which tells us a lot about the boson’s features. This is done by accelerating protons to near the speed of light and smashing them together. The protons break up and produce a wide variety of particles, which scientists meticulously measure and catalog.

However, scientists have noticed a strange attribute of the Higgs – it appears to decay in two completely different ways and seems to have two slightly different masses.

Higgs #1 (and the most commonly observed Higgs, which has been seen about 500 times) decays into two photons and has a mass of 126.6 gigaelectronvolts (GeV). Higgs #2 (which has about 10 observations) decays into four leptons and has a mass of about 123.5 GeV. The difference is very tiny, but it’s there. Originally, ATLAS scientists thought there was a problem with the calibration, but after re-calibrating and more smashing, the data was consistent with previous observations.

The two observed Higgs decays. Image credit: M. Strassler
The two observed Higgs decays.
Image credit: M. Strassler

So, the question is, what are scientists seeing? At the moment, we don’t know – but that won’t stop us from making some hypotheses. There are basically two possibilities; either there are two slightly different Higgs (which would be really weird, though there is a hypothesis that suggests the existence of at least five Higgs) or it’s really the same Higgs and scientists are seeing a statistical coincidence.

In case you were wondering how this affects the Standard Model and the future of particle physics, at the moment, it doesn’t. Scientists need to make thousands more observations before they can be certain of anything. For the time being, they get to run more tests and analyze more data.

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