I realize most of the people who read my entries aren't that interested in physics, but this is potentially such a big discovery that I am going to write about it anyway.

There is a rumor circulating that the Tevatron accelerator has discovered the Higgs boson! (I'll wait for the stunned awe to fade...)

Maybe I should give some background information. Long before I was born, in the 1960's, three physicists made an interesting discovery. They realized that if the fundamental particles of nature obey a certain symmetry law then you would automatically have two of the four forces of natures explained. It was already known that electromagnetic forces were a consequence of a symmetry, but now the weak nuclear forces which govern many forms of radioactive decay, could also be explained. Further, electromagnetic forces and weak nuclear forces were actually two forms of the same fundamental force.

The problem was that this symmetry only worked if the four particles that carried this force between particles were all massless. The photon satisfies that condition, but the other three particles are not only massive but until 1995 were the three heaviest particles known to exist! Something was very wrong.

But Higgs (and others) realized that the symmetry was only required in theory, not in practice. When the Universe started at the Big Bang, all the particles were massless. A few moments later, the Universe started to fill up with particles called Higgs bosons - in fact it was flooded with these particles. And so when a massless particle tries to move, it gets slowed down from colliding with all of these Higgs bosons and appears to have a mass. It has been compared to moving your hand through air and then trying to move it at the same speed through molasses - it suddenly feels a lot heavier.

Perfect - the theory is complete and now everyone could move on to other things. Except the sixties passed with no sign of a Higgs boson in the experiments. Then the 70s,80s,90s, and 2000s. Billions of dollars have been spent to construct the Large Hadron Collider in the hope of finding a single Higgs boson to confirm the theory. Theorists around the world have been getting nervous and publishing articles on how to fix the Standard Model of particle physics in case no Higgs is ever found. Everyone has been waiting anxiously, with the LHC claiming a 50% chance of finding a Higgs this year if it exists.

And then from behind comes the Tevatron, and perhaps discovers it first. As I say, nothing is confirmed and certainly nothing has been announced. But all around the world physicists will be waiting to see if there really is something or if it was nothing more than a rumor.