- Category: Science & Technology
- Created on Wednesday, 14 December 2011 01:19
- Written by Mike Ely
The Higgs boson is a subatomic particle that was predicted to exist nearly 50 years ago. Scientists have been searching for the particle for decades, but so far have no solid proof that it is real.
Although the Higgs boson grabs headlines – unsurprising, given its nickname, the God particle – it is important only because its discovery would prove there is an invisible energy field that fills the vacuum throughout the observable universe. Without the field, or something like it, we would not be here.
Scientists have no hope of seeing the field itself, so they search instead for its signature particle, the Higgs boson, which is essentially a ripple in the Higgs field.
According to theory, the Higgs field switched on a trillionth of a second after the big bang blasted the universe into existence. Before this moment, all of the particles in the cosmos weighed nothing at all and zipped around chaotically at the speed of light.
When the Higgs field switched on, some particles began to feel a "drag" as they moved around, as though caught in cosmic glue. By clinging to the particles, the field gave them mass, making them move around more slowly. This was a crucial moment in the formation of the universe, because it allowed particles to come together and form all the atoms and molecules around today.
But the Higgs field is selective. Particles of light, or photons, move through the Higgs field as if it wasn't there. Because the field does not cling top them, they remain weightless and destined to move around at the speed of light forever. Other particles, like quarks and electrons – the smallest constituents of atoms – get caught in the field and gain mass in the process.
The field has enormous implications. Without it, the smallest building blocks of matter, from which all else is made, would forever rush around at the speed of light. They would never come together to make stars, planets, or life as we know it.