Is It a Higgs Boson Imposter?

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Physicists have spotted something that looks like the Higgs boson, but what if it’s actually a more exotic Higgs doppelganger?

This possibility has been raised by Ian Low, of Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, and his team who posted an article to the arXiv preprint service on Monday.

ANALYSIS: Listen to the Higgs Boson

The Standard Model of physics predicts that the Universe needs a ubiquitous Higgs field that endows all subatomic particles with mass. The Higgs boson is the Higgs field’s messenger that interacts with all particles and helps to explain why some particles are massive, while other particles are nearly mass-less.

According to predictions from the Standard model — a quantum recipe book of sorts — should particles be collided at very high energies, for a very brief moment “standard” Higgs bosons should be produced. Also predicted by the Standard Model, standard Higgs bosons are, by their nature, very unstable and rapidly “decay” into other particles.

Two decay modes of the standard Higgs are thought to operate during high-energy collisions in the Large Hadron Collider. The Higgs boson is theorized to decay into either two photons or Z and W bosons (carriers of the weak force) — all decay products can be detected by the LHC. The Higgs particle themselves cannot be detected, just these tracers they leave behind.

PHOTOS: When the World Went Higgs Boson Crazy

But just because the decay products are detected at the energies predicted to be the decay modes for a standard Higgs boson, how do we know that it was really a Higgs boson that produced them?

According to Low’s team, we don’t (although they do admit, the Higgs boson is still the most likely explanation).

When the “bump” in CMS and ATLAS detector data was announced at the July 4 CERN meeting, scientists revealed that the bump (or “excess”) in the data was down to the detection of photons that appeared to be the decay product of the long-sought-after standard Higgs — at an energy of around 126 GeV. This experimental result appears to agree with theory.

HOWSTUFFWORKS: What Exactly is The Higgs Boson?

A few alternatives were mentioned by Low — perhaps the signal is produced by more than one type of Higgs boson, a Higgs doublet or triplet. Or could the signal be caused by a mixture of particles? Even more exotic, says Low, is the possibility of this being a fingerprint of a “warped extra dimension.”

If it looks like a Higgs, swims like a Higgs, and quacks like a Higgs… in the world of particle physics, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the Higgs.

As LHC scientists are all too aware, they need to do a lot more research before the Higgs is unequivocally characterized, but it’s certainly interesting to realize that there may be some exotic physics beyond the Standard Model that may be acting as a “Higgs imposter.”

Source: arXiv blog

Image: The CMS detector of the LHC (CERN)