GENEVA CERN physicists have moved the focus of their search for the Higgs boson, the particle many think gave the universe form after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago, to a narrow band on the mass spectrum, a spokesman said on Wednesday.
And science bloggers close to the research centre are suggesting it might be clear by mid-December that the boson is a chimera and some other mechanism to explain how matter changed to mass at the birth of the cosmos will have to be sought.
"The higher mass region has now been virtually ruled out, but the Higgs it could still be anywhere in the lower 114-141 GeV range," James Gillies of CERN, the 21-nation European Organisation for Nuclear Research near Geneva, told Reuters.
Physicists such as Italian Tomasso Dorigo, who works with CERN, now say that - if it exists - the Higgs should be found at around 120 GeV (here),
while independent British researcher Philip Gibbs goes for 140 GeV on his site, vixra.org/.
GeV, or giga electron-volts, is a term used in physics to quantify particle energy fields. Searches for the Higgs in CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the now-closed Tevatron at the U.S. Fermilab have ranged up to 476 GeV.
Results from analysis up to the end of June in the LHC, which smashes together millions of particles per second at a tiny fraction under the speed of light, were presented at a conference in Paris last week.
But these slipped by almost unnoticed even by many specialists in the particle physics community which has been more focussed recently on an Italian research centre's claim to have recorded neutrino particles moving faster than light.
The latest Higgs findings were compiled jointly by two usually competing LHC research teams, ATLAS and CMS, and Gillies said both were working hard to try to complete analysis of data from the collider gathered up to the start of November.
The 21-nation CERN's ruling Council meets from Dec. 12 to Dec. 16 and any concrete sign of the Higgs - whose existence was postulated four decades ago by British scientist Peter Higgs - would be reported during that session.
But CERN physicist and blogger Pauline Gagnon said on Wednesday that the low mass range, where scientists had always thought they would find the particle, was also the one where it would be more difficult to see.
The Higgs, she said, "is playing hard to catch". (here)
"It might be that it does not even exist," she said, a possibility already raised by other researchers and by CERN chief Rolf Heuer.
This echoed comments by Columbia University mathematical physicist Peter Woit last weekend in his Higgs Non-News blog (www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=4161).
"It seems not impossible that the results available (publicly or not...) mid-December will come within striking distance of ruling out the Higgs (at 90 pct or 95 pct level) over the relevant low mass range," Woit wrote.
The particle is part of the 30-year-old Standard Model of particle physics that seeks to explain how the universe works at its most basic level, but it is almost the only element of the model whose existence had not yet been proven.
If it is not found, said Gagnon, "we need to move on to explore the next set of possibilities".
One suggestion came this week from a self-proclaimed non-scientist in a comment on the Quantum Diaries blog. "It will be in essence ethereal, kind of like a spirit being, existing for the purpose of holding everything together," he wrote.
(Reported by Robert Evans)