The head of the European Center for Nuclear Research says its teams have discovered a new particle that is consistent with the Higgs boson -- a subatomic particle considered so significant to the understanding of the universe that it has been called the God particle.
"We have a discovery [that is] consistent with a Higgs boson," Rolf Heuer, director of CERN, the European research center, said Wednesday.
Two independent teams at CERN, the physics lab in the Alps on the French-Swiss border, have now said that they have "observed" the new boson, or subatomic particle. The CERN teams did not outright say that they have discovered the Higgs boson itself, which has been the focus of a 40-plus year pursuit.
The Higgs boson, which was first proposed in the 1960s by the English physicist Peter Higgs, is believed to give all matter in the universe size and shape.
The international effort to find it has used tremendous amounts of energy to crash subatomic particles into one another in giant underground tracks, where they are steered by magnetic fields. Several different experiments have been done by independent teams to ensure accuracy.
Physicists say the Higgs boson would help explain how we, and the rest of the universe, exist. It would explain why the matter created in the Big Bang has mass, and can coalesce. Without it, as CERN explained in a background paper, "the universe would be a very different place ... no ordinary matter as we know it, no chemistry, no biology, and no people."
"The Higgs particle, if it's real, will show itself in different ways. We need for all of them to be consistent before we can say for sure we've seen it," Rob Roser, a physicist at the Department of Energy's Fermilab near Chicago, told said earlier this week. "This is one of the cornerstones of how we understand the universe, and if it's not there, we have to go back and check our assumptions about how the universe exists."
It is believed that Fermilab's atom smasher, called the Tevatron, must have produced thousands of Higgs particles over its life before it was shut down last year after it was overshadowed by CERN's more powerful Large Hadron Collider.
"It's up to us to try to find them in the data we have collected," Luciano Ristori, a physicist at Fermilab and the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, said in a statement earlier this week.
"We have developed sophisticated simulation and analysis programs to identify Higgs-like patterns. Still, it is easier to look for a friend's face in a sports stadium filled with 100,000 people than to search for a Higgs-like event among trillions of collisions."