Scientists’ belief that the missing cornerstone of particle physics — the so-called God particle — has been found was the topic Monday at the opening of the first international planetarium meeting to be held in Baton Rouge.
Rolf Landua, head of education and public outreach with the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which may have discovered the Higgs boson, spoke at the opening of the International Planetarium Society meeting.
Landau explained that only 0.4 percent of the universe is made up of stars and planets; 3.6 percent is made up of dust; but the majority — 73 percent — is made up of dark energy and 23 percent is made up of dark matter — and it’s not known what these really are.
“Of course we have theories. Every great physicist has a theory, but they’re usually wrong,” he said to appreciative laughter.
It was announced July 4 that Higgs boson was very likely discovered at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.
Scientists with the world’s biggest atom smasher claimed the discovery of the new particle that is consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson — known popularly as the “God particle” — which is believed to give all matter in the universe size and shape.
“CERN is the science of the very, very small,” Landua said.
The Higgs field was first suggested as a theory in 1964 as a “missing link” in the Standard Model of physics, which describes the particles from which everything is made.
The missing link in that model is the question of how can a point like a particle have mass, which is what the Higgs field theory tries to address, Landua said.
“There may be a field that fills all of space that gives particles mass,” Landua said. “That’s what we’re aiming at, at CERN.”
Without the Higgs field, all particles would just fly around at the speed of light, which means no solid structures could exist in the universe. With the Higgs field, some particles acquire mass, which is why solid structure exist, he explained.
What scientists were looking for was a particle that could be a marker to show that the Higgs field exists.
To find that particle, scientists used the Large Hadron Collider to speed up particles along an almost 17-mile tube and then crash them together, creating a host of new particles.
Landau explained it like this: imagine you collided two strawberries and it produced a host of fruit from bananas to apples, not very surprising. But when one of those products is a fish, “that’s a Nobel Prize,” he said.
That “fish” is what scientists were looking for to indicate that the Higgs field exists, he said. Preliminary results look good that this Higgs boson has been found as an indicator of the Higgs field.
“It’s a very important step to understanding what empty space is. It might not be that empty,” Landua said.
The International Planetarium Society was formed in 1970 with a purpose to gather individuals and groups involved in astronomy education. The conference, which has brought in more than 600 participants from 43 countries, will continue through Thursday in various locations in downtown Baton Rouge.
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