Update (10:24 a.m. EST): Scientists at CERN just finished their press conference explaining their discovery in relation to the so-called god particle, and while they say they've found evidence of the mysterious Higgs Boson, they've stopped short of announcing it definitely exists. "The public announcement wasn't really an announcement of anything. Instead, it was more like a year-in-review presentation," wrote Boing Boing's Maggie Koerth-Baker. But that presentation was pretty exciting for particle physicists and those who follow the field. It was the first time scientists said they had hard evidence of the particle, predicted in the Standard Model of particle physics, as the mysterious force giving mass to the rest of the universe. The BBC explains the findings a bit better:
Two separate experiments at the LHC [Large Hadron Collider] - Atlas and CMS - have been conducting independent searches for the Higgs. Because the Standard Model does not predict an exact mass for the Higgs, physicists have to use particle accelerators like the LHC to systematically look for it across a broad search area.
At a seminar at Cern (the organisation that operates the LHC) on Tuesday, the heads of Atlas and CMS said they see "spikes" in their data at roughly the same mass: 124-125 gigaelectronvolts (GeV).
So what does that mean? Well, essentially it means that the readings indicate the existence of the Higgs Bosun, but scientists still can't prove definitively that they weren't caused by some kind of background fluctuation. It does not mean, as the Daily Mail's headline states, that the "Atom smasher reveals Higgs boson, the key to the universe." Still, as Koerth-Baker points out, 2012 is going to be a very exciting year for particle physics.
Original: Physicists at CERN will unveil their highly anticipated announcement about the search for the Higgs boson today, but like most major scientific breakthroughs, the new details will raise more questions than they answer.
Despite early rumors that the mysterious subatomic particle had been found, indications from researchers working at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland are that they have made "significant progress," but still cannot make a definitive call about its existence. But whatever they've found has apparently given them reason to keep looking.
Even if they had found it, of course, that wouldn't answer everything. The boson itself is merely proof that the "Higgs mechanism" — the theory of how elementary particles of the universe acquire mass — is correct. If the Higgs mechanism is correct, that means the Standard Model (the most fundamental theory of particle physics) is basically correct, which means scientists are on the right the track to explaining how the universe works at its most basic levels.
But don't think the Standard Model is the end of the issue either. That still doesn't explain dark matter, gravity, neturinos....
No one thinks the Higgs is the final word about what underlies the Standard Model of particle physics, the theory that describes the most basic elements of matter and the forces through which they interact. Even if the Higgs boson is discovered, the question will still remain of why masses are what they are.
Are you lost yet? Well, it doesn't help that physicists trying to explain these things to general public are also saying that the only thing more exciting than finding the Higgs boson is not finding it. Proving that it doesn't exist would blow up the Standard Model, but it would also open up an entirely new field of exploration and research, giving particle geeks an entirely new puzzle to solve. In other words, if we had all the answers, we wouldn't need scientists.
There's also the matter of what a complete understanding of the elementary particles of the universe would have to do with the price of oil in Omaha, but maybe that's a question for another day. CERN's press conference will be broadcast online at 8:00 a.m. Eastern time, if you want to try and figure it out then.