Image: CERN

CERN had planned to shut down its LEP accelerator on October 1, making way for the new Large Hadron Collider. But they have been forced to extend LEP's operations for at least another month now that the Higgs boson--also known as the God Particle--may have put in a late-breaking appearance. Indeed, scientists working with the ALEPH experiment--one of four using the soon-to-be-defunct accelerator--presented evidence at a recent meeting of what appears to be the mystery particle, which is attributed with endowing mass to all matter.

"The discovery of the Higgs boson would mark a profound point in the history of science," says Sau Lan Wu, head of the High Energy Physics group from the University of Wisconsin working on ALEPH, which generates snapshots of particle tracks, such as the one shown at right. "The Higgs boson is perhaps the most important and unique elementary particle. There is literally no other particle like it."

The findings the ALEPH researchers have put forth are far from conclusive but are still compelling: after smashing particles together many thousands of times, they witnessed three collisions creating particles that bore all the characteristic traits of Higgs bosons and had masses around 114 GeV, or about 122 times greater than that of protons. And although production of the Higgs boson is exceedingly rare during any event, at that mass, the researchers say, there are few other interpretations. "If these candidates are proved to be signs of the Higgs boson," Wu adds, "we finally have a complete picture of the behavior of matter and energy at the most fundamental levels currently experimentally accessible to us.