Just in time for Albert Einstein's birthday Thursday, scientists delivered exciting news about how the universe works.
Last summer, physicists announced that they had identified a particle with characteristics of the elusive Higgs boson, the so-called "God particle." But, as often the case in science, they needed to do more research to be more certain.
On Thursday, scientists announced that the particle, detected at the Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful particle-smasher, looks even more like the Higgs boson.
The news came at the Moriond Conference in La Thuile, Italy, from scientists at the Large Hadron Collider's ATLAS and Compact Muon Solenoid experiments. These two detectors are looking for unusual particles that slip into existence when subatomic particles crash into one another at high energies.
A $10 billion machine that smashes particles together is shutting down this weekend, taking a staycation in its 17-mile tunnel near the French-Swiss border while receiving maintenance and upgrades. The Large Hadron Collider, one of the world's largest science experiments, will resume operations in 2014 or 2015 at unprecedented energies.
Do you care?
Judging from the many comments that we get at CNN.com about what people perceive as a "waste" of money for scientific exploration, you might not. That may be because what happens at the LHC seems far removed from everyday life, and even farther from the study of stars.
"Everybody is, in some sense, an amateur astronomer. We all look up at the stars and wonder how the universe works," says Joel Primack, professor of physics and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "People are not amateur particle physicists."
Wouldn't it be awesome to look inside the Large Hadron Collider, where the Higgs boson may have been detected?
Check out this panoramic view of the Large Hadron Collider from Time.com.
It's like molasses! But sort of like the air! Yet it also behaves like fans of Justin Bieber!
Everyone's talking about the Higgs boson, even though there's no really great metaphor for describing what it is and how it works. We know that this particle is responsible for the fact that matter - i.e. the stuff we are made of - has mass. Beyond that, physicists have to get creative.
Scientists from the European Organization of Nuclear Research (CERN) said yesterday that they had discovered a new particle with attributes of the Higgs boson, a particle that had never been detected, but needs to exist in order for current theories about the universe to remain true.
"It's an enormous celebration and everyone's incredibly excited to have found it, but this is by no means a gigantic surprise," said prominent theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed.
Scientists said Wednesday that they had discovered a new particle whose characteristics match those of the Higgs boson, the most sought-after particle in physics, which could help unlock some of the universe's deepest secrets.
"We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature," said Rolf Heuer, the director general of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which has been carrying out experiments in search of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest particle accelerator.
"The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle's properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe," Heuer said.
The following is a republished excerpt from a story that ran on CNN.com on December 14, 2011.
What is the Higgs boson?
The Standard Model of particle physics lays out the basics of how elementary particles and forces interact in the universe. But the theory crucially fails to explain how particles actually get their mass.
Particles, or bits of matter, range in size and can be larger or smaller than atoms. Electrons, protons and neutrons, for instance, are the subatomic particles that make up an atom.
At the start of a big week for the Higgs boson, the most sought-after particle in all of physics, scientists in Illinois said Monday that they had crept closer to proving that the particle exists but had been unable to reach a definitive conclusion.
The scientists outlined their final analysis based on more than 10 years of research and 500 trillion particle collisions using the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermilab Tevatron collider near Batavia, Illinois, whose budgetary woes shut it down last year.
Their announcement came two days before researchers at the Large Hadron Collider under the Alps are due to unveil their latest results at an eagerly awaited seminar at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland.
This could be the year of the Higgs boson, the most sought-after particle in all of physics. More clues about it are emerging at a U.S.-based collider whose budgetary woes shut it down last year.
The Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) has just announced that it has found hints of the ever-so-important particle, which are consistent with observations from the Large Hadron Collider.
Finding the Higgs boson would help explain the origin of mass, one of the open questions in physicists' current understanding of the way the universe works. The particle has been so difficult to pin down (metaphorically speaking) that physicist Leon Lederman reportedly wanted to call his book "The Goddamn Particle." But he truncated that epithet to "The God Particle," which may have helped elevate the particle's allure in popular culture.
Scientists said Tuesday that they’re a little bit closer to answering one of the biggest questions of particle physics: Does the so-called God particle exist?
Gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, experts from around the world revealed results of their search for the particle – known officially as the Higgs boson - using the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest atom smasher.
The Higgs boson, which has been theorized but never glimpsed, plays a fundamental role in the workings of our universe. One expert called it the “missing piece of the jigsaw.”
Scientists at Tuesday's event said they had made strides in their search for the Higgs boson but did not have strong enough conclusions to claim a discovery.
“The first important results are that we have been able to restrict the most likely mass region over the last months to a very narrow range,” Fabiola Gianotti said Tuesday at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN. “In this mass region, we see some excessive events. It’s too early to tell if this excess is due to a fluctuation in the background or something more interesting.”
The collider fires together protons, which are positively charged particles that make up all atoms that can interact in many different ways. Scientists are looking very closely for a "Higgs bump," which is "literally a bump in a graph which will pop up and say, 'that's it!' " said physicist Martin Archer of the Imperial College of London.
Related: Higgs coming into focus
"It is too early to draw a definite conclusion. More studies and more data are needed. We have built solid foundations for the exciting months to come," Gianotti added. “We are discussing something, which is the last chapter we hope for a story which lasts since 47 years.”
Two groups of scientists worked independently on different parts of the hydrogen collider to watch and analyze the particle collisions.
Scientists say Higgs boson particles won’t be discovered by actually observing the particles themselves. They will be discovered by observing how other particles react to them.
"As of today, what we see is consistent either with a background fluctuation or with the presence of the boson,” said Guido Tonelli, another scientist who participated in the research. “Refined analyses and additional data delivered in 2012 by this magnificent machine will definitely give an answer.”
The Standard Model is the theory physicists use to describe the behavior of fundamental particles and the forces that act between them. It describes the ordinary matter from which we, and everything visible in the universe, are made and does it extremely well. Nevertheless, the Standard Model does not describe the 96% of the universe that is invisible: so-called Dark Matter. One of the main goals of the collider's research program is to go beyond the Standard Model, and the Higgs boson could be the key, CERN scientists explained.
“The very good news that we know from today that in the next year, it’s very likely we might get an answer that we could consider solid,” Tonelli said.
Gossip isn’t just for teenage girls – scientists spread rumors, too. Physicists are giddy about an announcement that will come from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) on Tuesday at 8 a.m. EST, although the details remain tantalizingly secret.
The word on the street is that scientists will unveil the first hints of the Higgs boson, also called the "God particle" in popular culture. This unimaginably small particle has never been detected, but would explain several unsolved mysteries about the universe – for instance, why building blocks of our world have mass.