The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) claims to have discovered a new particle consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson, which could explain how matter attains its mass.
The discovery is the result of two separate experiments at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva – the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment and the Atlas experiment.
Both teams claim to have seen a "bump" in their data corresponding to a particle weighing between 125 and 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) – about 130 times heavier than the proton at the heart of every atom.
While scientists seem confident that this is a new particle, it remains to be seen whether its properties are as expected for Higgs boson, the final missing ingredient in the Standard Model of particle physics.
"The results are preliminary but the 5 sigma signal at around 125 GeV we’re seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found," said CMS experiment spokesperson Joe Incandela (pictured).
"The implications are very significant and it is precisely for this reason that we must be extremely diligent in all of our studies and cross-checks."
If the particle's properties fit the profile of Higgs boson, it could confirm theories about the fundamental particles from which every visible thing in the universe is made, and the forces acting between those things.
However, the matter that we can see only represents about 4 percent of the total, so a more complex version of the Higgs particle could be a bridge to understanding the 96 percent of the universe that remains obscure.
CERN director-general Rolf Heuer said that, whatever form the particle takes, the findings represent "a milestone in our understanding of nature". He added that data from the two experiments would need to be compared and combined before any formal conclusions were drawn.
"The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle’s properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe."
The analyses will be published around the end of July, and a more complete picture of the observations will emerge later in the year, according to CERN.