The Large Hadron Collider (LHS) at CERN has made yet another monumental discovery: the extraordinarily rare decay of a Higgs Boson fundamental particle. Physicists have been waiting for this day ever since the Higgs particle was first observed with the LHC in 2012.

How Does the Large Hadron Collider Work?

large hadron collider
The Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland

The Large Hadron Collider is the largest particle accelerator in the world by a large margin. The accelerator is essentially a 27-kilometer-long circular race track for protons. The entire length of the machine is littered with thousands of superconducting magnets that are used to contain particles within the accelerator and speed them up to nearly the speed of light.

The particles are smashed together at this incredible speed and the resulting products of the collision are carefully studied with a suite of extremely high-precision measuring devices. This seems to be the only good way to study the smallest, most fundamental particles.

The Large Hadron Collider’s Higgs Boson Decay Is More Important Than You Think

You may be wondering why this discovery or even why the initial observation of the Higgs Boson is important. This discovery may not seem as interesting as say a major development in artificial intelligence but in reality it could be vastly more important. The Higgs Boson is called the “God particle” for a reason. Understanding the Higgs Boson is so vital because it is an absolutely fundamental part of the universe.

In comparison to this discovery, building a new CPU with 15% more performance, for example, feels like its pointless.

The Higgs Boson is a basic particle that gives all other particles (to our best knowledge) mass. Without it, there would be no gravity. Basic particles would fly through each other and never come together to form atoms, let alone planets, stars, or living things.

This is why it is so incredibly important to understand the Higgs Boson. New observations of the Higgs could answer some of our most existential questions and close major gaps of understanding in particle physics.

Unique Higgs Boson decays are especially interesting because they could provide indirect evidence of the existence of entirely new particles that aren’t predicted under the Standard Model of particle physics.

One of the physics coordinators at CERN, Pamela Ferrari reinforced this idea, saying that “Each particle has a special relationship with the Higgs boson, making the search for rare Higgs decays a high priority.”

What Did The Scientists Discover With This Higgs Boson Decay?

There are 2 separate teams at CERN that both use the LHC simultaneously to study different experiments called CMS and ATLAS. In an unusual collaboration, the 2 teams came together to try to catch a Higgs Boson decay and they were finally successful.

The scientists combined their data and found that Higgs Boson particles sometimes decay into a photon and a Z boson, a fundamental particle that gives rise to the weak force. The end result of the decay is not the most interesting part, however.

The Higgs doesn’t seem to decay directly into a Z boson and a photon. Instead, the scientists found that it is likely decaying into an intermediate loop of what they call ‘virtual particles.’ These particles are quite odd as they ‘pop in and out of existence’ and can’t be detected directly.

The CERN scientists think that these strange virtual particles could include entirely new, undiscovered particles that interact with the Higgs. If physicists find a way to study these virtual particles, they may be able to gain a much better understanding of our universe and potentially upend the Standard Model completely.

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