Jul. 8, 2012: The Higgs boson particle: “I think we have it.”
Scientists have spent half a century speculating about and searching for the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle whose existence was first hypothesized by Peter Higgs in 1964. According to Higgs, the particle that shared his name would serve to imbue other particles with mass and would therefore serve as a key building block for the universe. It is also the last of 12 elementary particles that are believed to exist under the Standard Model of the atom, serving as the vital connection between electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces. As Dennis Overbye of the New York Times described the prevailing theory,
[T]he Higgs boson is the only manifestation of an invisible force field, a cosmic molasses that permeates space and imbues elementary particles with mass. Particles wading through the field gain heft the way a bill going through Congress attracts riders and amendments, becoming ever more ponderous.
Naturally, the Higgs boson has become famous both for its importance to the hypothesized Standard Model — without it or something like it, all particles would move at the speed of light and would pass through one another and because of how difficult it has been to pinpoint. But on Wednesday, abstract physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, announced that they believe they have finally found the fabled particle.
While the Higgs boson could not be observed directly — even the Standard Model of the atom is only a theory, particularly since no current microscope can actually show matter on an atomic level — the CERN team involved in the discovery noted that the particle behaved very closely to the way that Higgs hypothesized it should during collisions between protons. Based on their findings, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director general of CERN, announced the finding as a “discovery,” which standards in the field demand can only be done if statistics demonstrate less than a one-in-3.5 million chance of a false positive, or five standard deviations. It should be noted, though, that some physicists are still reluctant to place complete faith in the findings, particularly given CERN’s false faster-than-light neutrino finding that we discussed throughout the last year, choosing instead to call the new particle “Higgslike.”
In any case, there are indeed some slight deviations from how the Higgs boson was expected to behave, leaving hope for some researchers that there may yet be greater mysteries about elementary particles to uncover. Whether or not the Higgs boson behaves as anticipated, though, scientists can look forward to tackling the question of dark matter, among others, which the Standard Model fails to explain but which appears to supply the gravitational force that keeps galaxies from simply flying apart. In short, this may indeed be a landmark achievement in science, but there is ever more work to be done.
Let’s switch gears for a bit. In the political realm, Libyans are thriving in their first free national election in 60 years, separating themselves from the tarnished legacy of ousted dictator Muammar Gadhafi. Well, mostly. Some citizens are now demanded more autonomy from the central government in Tripoli, and have taken to burning polling stations and ballots as well as forcibly preventing would-be voters from entering some stations. Still, authorities indicated that voter turnout was quite high, with 94% of polling stations operating normally. These elections will decide a temporary 200-member assembly, which will in turn elect Libya’s prime minister and cabinet. Full parliamentary elections are expected to begin next year under a new constitution.
Elsewhere, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton officially declared Afghanistan a major, non-NATO ally, placing it alongside Israel, Japan, Pakistan, and a collection of other Asian and Middle Eastern allies. This designation grants Afghanistan special privileges such as access to U.S. military training and excess supplies. Officials hope that this pact will ease Afghani fears of abandonment at the end of NATO’s combat mission in 2014, particularly given that Iraq was never granted such status, and U.S. forces withdrew from the country last year. If nothing else, Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai has not lashed out at his new allies as of late. The rather volatile leader has done so many times in the past, even calling Americans “demons” in the wake of the Koran-burning scandal and Robert Bales’ killing spree, which we covered in February and March, respectively.
On the domestic front, the U.S. Labor Department issued yet another gloomy jobs report on Friday, with merely 80,000 positions added in June, half of the 150,000-200,000 new jobs a month necessary just to keep up with population growth. In other words, the figure is less a sign of recovery as it is an indicator that we’re falling further behind. With the national unemployment rate holding steady at 8.2%, Barack Obama signed a $105-billion transportation bill that will also keep student loan rates in check for the near future, but he rightly noted that there is still “more to do” on jobs. Across the aisle, New York Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle hammered Obama for “doubling down on policies that are holding us back and making things worse” amidst “the latest in a string of bad news about the economy,” although she devoted most of her attention to attacking the controversial Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” which she and other Congressmen hope to repeal. A great deal of the controversy about Obamacare stems from new reports that 75% of its still-unclear 13-figure costs will fall on lower- and middle-class workers making under $120,000 a year, despite earlier claims by Obama that no new health care law should be passed “with tax increases on middle class families.” More than 400,000 people below the poverty line are expected to have to pay the annual tax. In any case, a Wednesday vote in the House of Representatives will start the right-wing push to overturn the new law.
In tennis news, sixth-seeded Serena Williams bounced back from a surprise first-round exit from the French Open in May to claim Wimbledon’s women’s singles title, beating defending champion Petra Kvitova, second-seeded Victoria Azarenka, and third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska en route to her fifth Wimbledon title and 14th major championship. The victory was Williams’ first title since dominating Wimbledon in 2010. A foot injury and a pulmonary embolism she suffered shortly after that championship took her off the court for a year, and her performance since had been rather subdued until this dominating run.
On the men’s side, Great Britain’s Andy Murray is set to face Switzerland’s Roger Federer in what is sure to be a dramatic final. If Murray can pull off the upset, it will be his first major title. This will be his fourth appearance in a Grand Slam tournament final, though; he lost all three previous appearances. If the top-ranked Federer wins, though, as most — including retired legend Pete Sampras — expect, Federer will tie two of Sampras’ all-time tennis records: seven Wimbledon titles, and 286 weeks being ranked #1 in the world. Federer has already broken many of Sampras’ other records, including his mark of 14 major titles (Federer has 16). It will also be Federer’s eighth appearance in a Wimbledon final, surpassing Sampras’ modern-era record of seven, all of which he won. The outcome will be decided on the grass today at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.
I know that there are some anime fans among our readership, so this next story is just for you. At the 20th anniversary Sailor Moon event (or Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Bishōjo Senshi Sērā Mūn, or 美少女戦士セーラームーン for the hardcore fans), series creator Naoko Takeuchi and publisher Kodansha Comics announced that a brand-new Sailor Moon anime will be released in summer 2013. Very few details have been divulged thus far, but I’m sure that committed fans will be following this developing story with bated breath.
And finally, we have our requisite story from the Fourth of July. If you’ve been to enough fireworks shows, you know that things don’t always go as planned. This past Wednesday, the show I attended accidentally started over 15 minutes early, while a band was still playing and the sun was still in the sky; even the staff was oblivious to the fireworks having started until the show was almost complete. But that pales in comparison to what happened at San Diego’s annual Big Bay Boom show this year. The choreographed 17-minute show proceeded as intended, except for a few key details. First, it began five minutes before the scheduled start time. And second, the entire show lasted a whopping 15 seconds.
The video you see above is one of many that shows four giant, hairy-looking balls of light flying into the night sky. Garden State Fireworks, a company dating back to the 1860s, had planned a lengthy show, with fireworks launched from four separate barges and a patriotic soundtrack playing on local radio stations to be synchronized with the spectacle. But a technical glitch caused all 7,000 firework shells to ignite at once — hence the four tremendous fireballs that lit up the night sky and shook buildings in the area.
Saying that the show drew mixed reactions would be an understatement. Some have blasted the effort as a failure which not only disappointed planners and spectators, but which may have even damaged the environment. Others say that San Diego has nothing to complain about, as viewers will never forget this once-in-a-lifetime show, and that Garden State Fireworks should use the worldwide media attention devoted to the Big Bay Boom as a marketing tool for the future. Either way, the simultaneous launching of $125,000 worth of fireworks represents one of the most-viewed shows of all time, as its YouTube videos have already racked up four million views. The most popular clip, posted by first-time YouTube poster Andrew92106, was watched more than two million times in its first 48 hours alone.
Maybe we should just be glad that no casualties or arrests were reported in connection with the incident. Or maybe we should all try to hire Garden State Fireworks for next year’s show. After all, you can’t beat that for a grand finale.
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Tags: Affordable Care Act, Afghanistan, Agnieszka Radwanska, Andrew92106, Andy Murray, Ann Marie Buerkle, Asia, Barack Obama, Big Bay Boom, CERN, Congress, dark matter, demons, Dennis Overbye, European Organization for Nuclear Research, Fourth of July, French Open, Garden State Fireworks, Grand Slam, Great Britain, Hamid Karzai, Higgs boson, Hillary Rodham Clinton, House of Representatives, Iraq, Israel, Japan, jobs report, Koran, Libya, Middle East, Muammar Gadhafi, NATO, neutrino, New York, New York Times, Obamacare, Pakistan, Pete Sampras, Peter Higgs, Petra Kvitova, Robert Bales, Roger Federer, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, San Diego, Serena Williams, Standard Model, student loans, Switzerland, Tripoli, U.S., U.S. Labor Department, Victoria Azarenka, Wimbledon, YouTube