You’ve likely heard that scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have found the Higgs Boson, but you may be wondering what exactly it is. The simplest way of putting it is that it gives stuff mass. But how? That’s what I’m going to attempt to explain here. (And no, it won’t be in Comic Sans)
To understand how the Higgs boson gives particles mass, you must first understand what mass is. A particle without mass (such as the photon; the light particle) travels at the speed of light, 186,282.397 miles per second (299,792,458 meters per second), constantly. It is physically impossible for a massless particle to travel at a different speed. Particles that have mass have the ability to change speed or direction, but can’t go at or above that speed. The more mass a particle has, the tougher it is for the particle to change speed and direction.
The way particles gain mass is by how they travel through the Higgs field (notably different from the Higgs boson). The Higgs field is everything. Spacetime (what used to be referred to as ‘ether’), the ‘fabric of the universe’, has the Higgs field in it, everywhere. When a particle travels through this Higgs field, it reacts with the Higgs field, and effectively bounces off of it. While, in between bounces, the particle is traveling at the speed of light, at appears to move much slower, or even not at all. Some particles (such as the top quark; the elementary particle with the most mass of all) react with it a lot, but others (such as the photon, a massless elementary particle) don’t react with it at all.
That’s what the Higgs field is, but what’s the Higgs boson? The Higgs boson is merely an excitation of the Higgs field; the detectable part of it. In fact, the Higgs boson reacts with the Higgs field, allow itself to have mass. Actually, the Higgs boson reacts with the Higgs field much more than it does with other particles, so the Higgs boson has a very large mass when compared to other particles.
That’s what the Higgs boson is, but how do you find a new particle? The Higgs boson, when created by protons smashing into each other, is very short lived. It instantly decays into other particles. There are a lot of other particles that it can decay into depending on the circumstances. Some are more likely than others, but they are all possible none the less. Scientists at the LHC didn’t actually see the Higgs boson, but an escalated amount of particles that it can decay into, warranting the possibility of the Higgs boson existing. While millions of collisions had to occur to reasonably deduce that there is a Higgs boson, scientists believe that it’s there. From the data that they have received, scientists can infer that there is an unidentified boson with a mass of 125 billion electron volts (the mass of 133 protons). This matches the predicted mass of the Higgs boson. So while scientists aren’t positive that the Higgs boson exists, they’re certain beyond reasonable doubt.
Scientists will postpone the previously scheduled renovations to the Large Hadron Collider to further investigate the Higgs boson and after that look into dark energy (the proposed reason for the universe expanding at an escalated rate which is believed to occupy 74% of the universe) and dark matter (which is believed to be matter that does not react with the electromagnetic force (light) and theoretically composes 80% of the 26% of matter in our universe).