Tantalizing Hints of Elusive Higgs Particle Announced

From Scientific American:

HiggsThe two largest collaborations of physicists in history Tuesday presented intriguing but tentative clues to the existence of the Higgs boson, the elementary particle thought to endow ordinary matter with mass. Representing the 6,000 physicists who work on two separate detectors at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), called CMS and ATLAS, two spokespersons said that both experiments seemed to agree, as both their data sets suggested that the Higgs has a mass close to that of about 125 hydrogen atoms. The LHC is an international facility hosted by CERN, the European particle physics laboratory outside Geneva. “We are talking of intriguing, tantalizing hints,” said CMS spokesperson Guido Tonelli, speaking to a room filled with dozens of journalists and TV crews. “It's not evidence.”

The experiments, in which protons traveling at nearly the speed of light collide head-on, cannot directly detect the Higgs, because the boson would decay within a fraction of a nanosecond into other particles. Instead, physicists must search through the debris of many different types of particle decay to find precise combinations of by-products that the Higgs would produce—and different particles may well have the same signatures. A particular combination that appears more often than expected from other, “background” processes may signal the presence of the Higgs. But if it does not appear often enough compared with the expected background, it could just be a statistical fluctuation. Today, neither CMS nor ATLAS could claim to have the “3-sigma” statistical significance needed to claim evidence for a new particle—let alone 5 sigma for the accepted standard to claim a discovery. (A 3-sigma result implies a fraction of a 1 percent chance of a statistical fluke.) Instead, so far each experiment could only claim an event around 2 sigma.

More here.