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Big Bang machine: New data said to narrow hunt for 'God' particle

December 13th, 2011 9:34 am by JOHN HEILPRIN

Big Bang machine: New data said to narrow hunt for 'God' particle

GENEVA (AP) — Researchers hunting for an elusive sub-atomic particle believed to be a basic building block of the universe announced Tuesday that they have narrowed down the search thanks to the latest data.

The Higgs boson — popularly referred to as the "God particle" — is more likely to be found in the lower mass or energy ranges of the massive atom smasher being used to track it down, researchers from two independent teams said.

The unveiling of the latest data has generated much buzz among researchers who hope that the particle, if it exists, can help explain many mysteries of the universe. British physicist Peter Higgs and others theorized the particle's existence more than 40 years ago to explain why atoms, and everything else in the universe, have weight.

Both of the research teams are involved with CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research near Geneva. CERN oversees the $10-billion Large Hadron Collider under the Swiss-French border, a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel where high energy beams of protons are sent crashing into each other at incredible speeds.

Fabiola Gianotti, an Italian physicist who heads the team running what's called the ATLAS experiment, said "the hottest region" is in lower energy ranges of the collider. She said there are indications of the Higgs' existence and that with enough data it could be unambiguously discovered or ruled out next year.

Several mass or energy ranges within the atom smasher are now excluded to a "95 percent confidence level," Gianotti told other physicists at CERN.

Afterward, Guido Tonelli, lead physicist for the team running what's called the CMS experiment, outlined findings similar to those of the ATLAS team, saying the particle is most likely found "in the low mass region" of the collider.

Although it would be an enormous scientific breakthrough for the physics world if the Higgs boson was found, officials at CERN have ruled out making any such announcement this year.

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