Rumors about the discovery of the magical, mysterious Higgs boson particle have been swirling since December via "gossipy" updates in niche physics blogs, turning the mysterious particle into the iPhone 5 for physics fans. Now comes word that scientists may announce the discovery during the International Conference on High Energy Physics which begins on July 4. Are you ready?
"The bottom line though is now clear: there’s something there which looks like a Higgs is supposed to look," wrote Peter Woit, a mathematician, string theory critic, Columbia professor and prime rumor monger. Woit didn't say where he got the hot discovery rumor from, but according to The Times, scientists began crunching the classified data at CERN on Friday, and his post appeared on Sunday. He adds, "CERN will soon have to decide how to spin this: will they announce discovery of the Higgs, or will they wait for some overwhelmingly convincing standard to be met, such as 5 sigma in at least one channel of one experiment?"
Those getting ready to attend ICHEP in Melbourne, Australia, are anticipating some big new data from the physicists who have been smashing particles in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. "The new data will show whether that was a fluke or whether they are really on the road to discovering the long-lost boson," reports The New York Times' Dennis Overbye, who adds, "This, all agree, is the boson’s last stand."
5-sigma is a researcher way of describing how sure they've actually discovered something. Wired's Adam Mann explains, "In the rigorous world of high-energy physics, researchers wait to see a 5-sigma signal, which has only a 0.000028 percent probability of happening by chance, before claiming a 'discovery.'" Adding, "The latest Higgs rumors suggest nearly-there 4-sigma signals are turning up at both of the two separate LHC experiments that are hunting for the particle." And physicist Philip Gibbs, who Woit and Mann both cite, points out that the two 4-sigma results could be enough to trump the 5-sigma "discovery" benchmark.
And just like any good rumor, there are "I'm not telling you, but…." teases from experimental particle physicist Tomasso Dorigo, a bit of friction and even catty blog drama from theoretical physicist Matt Strassler who ran with the data, but still was apparently ticked over who broke what, and whether that person was allowed to break the news because he was "non-particle-physicist-blogger." Which is amusing in its own sort of way, since we're not fully fluent in all that Sigma talk.