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    What Is a "Boring" Higgs Boson?

    Written by

    Michael Byrne


    Simulation of a Higgs boson being produced in an LHC collision: Image: Lucas Taylor

    It's very likely the question above will seem a bit incongruous. Isn't the Higgs the most super-exciting, super-expensive thing to happen in physics in recent history? How could the god particle possibly ever be boring? Yeah, it's weird how a giant discovery can turn out to be kinda disappointing, but a tweet fired out from a loose lipped CERN researcher suggests that, among a range of possibilities, the Higgs boson in real life is not quite as cool/interesting as it could've been. In other words, it's just what was predicted.

    Physicists, of course, have had a pretty good idea of what they were looking for in the Higgs for a long time. The theorized particle has been around since first being suggested in 1964, filling a crucial hole in the Standard Model of physics, the periodic table-looking thing describing all of the subatomic particles making up existence. That hole assigns the Higgs certain properties, like having no charge and no spin, not based on experimental results, but based on what it should should be to make all of the other particles work correctly as we see them.

    In the case of the Higgs, not fitting means not boring. Not fitting means there's still some mystery to the Higgs, that the Standard Model needs an overhaul in some way to accommodate this oddness. There might've been more than one variety of Higgs boson, for example. And we desperately want some weirdness to point to something new, not just because weirdness is interesting by definition, but because the Standard Model doesn't explain a whole lot of stuff very crucial to our understanding of existence, like the universe's antimatter/matter imbalance or dark matter.

    There was some hope that, through the Higgs, physics research could pry its way into some of the other big mysteries of the universe. Researchers at CERN and elsewhere have spent the past nine months parsing Higgs boson data from the Large Hadron Collider so that we can go from calling the thing "a particle resembling the Higgs boson" to just the plain ol' Higgs boson. Since the possibility of a pseudoscalar Higgs was eliminated late last year, the only remaining weirdness researchers have had to eliminate (or confirm) is an excess in photon pair production as the Higgs boson decays into other particles. Early results suggested this production was higher than the Standard Model predicts. More recent results: not so much.

    According to New Scientist, a team at the LHC's Atlas detector announced yesterday that this possibility had dropped with more measurements. There's another detector, CMS, that hadn't reported anything related to photons since last summer's discovery announcement, leaving some hope for weird Higgs boosters. Their final results are expected next week, but CERN's Adam Falkowski let a (since-deleted) tweet slip suggesting they CMS hadn't found the same excess. Bad news, if true.

    Reach this writer at michaelb@motherboard.tv.