Today’s ‘Galaxy’ Insight –Weirdness of the Higgs Boson: “A Dead End or Gateway to Another Universe”

 

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“Whatever we find out, that is what nature chose,” Kyle Cranmer, a physics professor at New York University, told Brian Resnick at VOX. "It’s a good attitude to have when your field yields great disappointments."


For most of 2015, evidence was suggesting that CERN's Large Hadron Collider had found a new subatomic particle, which would be a discovery surpassing even the LHC’s discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, and perhaps the most significant advance since Einstein’s theory of relativity. The Large Hadron Collider's 750 GeV diphoton bump registered at least one unambiguous conclusion the LHC physicists believed: they'd found something new. In the showers of proton collision byproducts that occurred during the 2015 run of CERN's ATLAS and CMS experiments, it seemed there was a new particle.

 

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But, nature had other plans, in August, CERN reported that the evidence for the new particle, what at first looked like a promising “bump” in the data, indicating the presence of a particle with a unique mass, was just noise, that the 2016 data failed to replicate the bump, indicating that the earlier observations were just statistical fluctuations. This has resulted in a general let down shared by many researchers in high-energy physics: The LHC managed to bag the Higgs boson, but as for bagging supersymmetry, a New Physics, the presence of a particle or interaction so-far unknown it appears nature wasn't co-operating.

“It would be a profound discovery to find that we’re not going to see anything else,” Cranmer says, suggesting that supersymmetry isn’t the answer, and theoretical physicists will have to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to solve the mysteries left open by the standard model.

“If we’re all coming up empty, we would have to question our fundamental assumptions,” Sarah Demers, a Yale physicist, tells me. “Which is something we’re trying to do all the time, but that would really force us.”

An alternative possibility is that the the answers do exist, but they exist in a different universe. If the LHC can’t find answers to questions like “why is the Higgs so light?” scientists might grow to accept a more speculative out-of-the-box idea where there are tons of universes all existing parallel to one another. It could be that “in most of [the universes], the Higgs boson is really heavy, and in only in very unusual universes [like our own] is the Higgs boson so light that life can form,” Cranmer says.

Basically: On the scale of our single universe, it might not make sense for the Higgs to be light. But if you put it together with all the other possible universes, the math might check out.

The problem with this theory is that if heavier Higgs bosons exist in different universes, there’s no possible way to observe them. “Which is why a lot of people hate it, because they consider it to be anti-science,” Cranmer says. “It might be impossible to test.”

Way back in 2012, scientists hailed the doscovery of the Higgs, speculating that it could one day make light speed travel possible by "un-massing" objects or allow huge items to be launched into space by "switching off" the Higgs. CERN physicist Albert de Roeck likened it to the discovery of electricity, when he said humanity could never have imagined its future applications.

"What's really important for the Higgs is that it explains how the world could be the way that it is in the first millionth of a second in the Big Bang," de Roeck told AFP. "Can we apply it to something? At this moment my imagination is too small to do that."

Physicist Ray Volkas said "almost everybody" was hoping that, rather than fitting the so-called Standard Model of physics — a theory explaining how particles fit together in the Universe — the Higgs boson would prove to be "something a bit different".

"If that was the case that would point to all sorts of new physics, physics that might have something to do with dark matter," he said, referring to the hypothetical invisible matter thought to make up much of the universe.

Maybe the secret is hiding in Nature, awaiting its discovery.

The image at the top of the page shows γ-rays emitted from the Galactic Center, giving the LHC a firm target in its hunt for dark matter. (A. Mellinger, CMU; T. Linden, Univ. of Chicago/NASA Goddard)

The Daily Galaxy via Motherboard and Vox —read more of Brian Resnick's post here

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