Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Ghostly Forerunner of Higgs?


On the 5th November, the team at the Compact Muon Solenoid in France – a branch of CERN – announced that they might have seen the first footprints of the elusive Higgs Boson.
Or then again, they might not.

The Compact Muon Solenoid is, as its name suggests, a magnetic field generator designed to sort particles emanating from the Large Hadron Collider, and highlight the muons – which are a form of sub atomic particle a bit like an electron, only more energetic. However, there's nothing particularly compact about this solenoid to the casual observer - it's sodding enormous – unless of course you compare it to the main collider of the LHC, which is several kilometers in diameter.

There's a fun little interactive animation here, which shows you how the magnetic field provided by the CMS grabs particles and flings them, according to their mass and charge, along paths which are terminated at various points in the apparatus. Only muons (and some even more energetic particles, such as chi-neutrino) make it into the arena which the team is interested in, and their flight paths are recorded.

The Higgs Boson, otherwise known somewhat whimsically as the God Particle due to its hypothesised ability to bestow the feature of Being-ness known as mass to all other particles, is thought (by the Standard Model thought to govern sub atomic particles) to decay into two particles known as Z-bosons, which then decay further into four muons, two positive and two negative in charge. It's the trail left by these muons which is thought to be quite distinctive, and to give a sign that a Higgs Boson has decayed further back along the path.

So the scientists and technicians at CERN are quite excited, as I'm sure you realise by now. Only,they might be getting their hopes up, a bit. The four-muon trail could be the result of two interacting protons. Only time, and much gathering of more four-muon trails, will settle the question.
So, that's the CERN bunch happily engaged. While they're not paying attention, why don't we take some actions to help bring down the system?