In the case of the Higgs, physicists can only infer its existence and its properties from the more mundane particles it decays to produce—say, gamma-ray photons or pairs of electrons. The new particle has the right mass to be the Higgs and broadly decays as predicted, although a few ambiguities remain. Fortunately, more data are right around the corner. "We have only recorded one third of the data expected in 2012," ATLAS spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti of CERN said during her presentation. "This is just the beginning. There is more to come."
Both Gianotti and CMS spokesperson Joe Incandela of the University of California, Santa Barbara, were greeted by large outbursts of applause when they displayed the slides outlining the results of their Higgs search.
"There aren’t many discoveries like this," Columbia physicist Brian Cole told the group assembled on campus for the early-morning viewing party. "This trumps, I would say, everything in my physics career.…So I hope you all remember this for the rest of your lives."
Just before sunrise, four Columbia undergraduates made their way out of the library and back across campus. Only two of them were studying physics, they said—one was focusing on chemistry and another on math. But they all agreed that it had been worth staying up late to see history in the making.