In “What if there is no Higgs boson?” (New Scientist, 09 December 2011) Lisa Grossman grapples with the question:
Rumour has it they have found hints of the Higgs at a mass of 125 gigaelectronvolts, about 133 times the mass of a proton. What is known for sure, though, is that researchers from the LHC’s main detectors, ATLAS and CMS, will separately present the past year’s worth of data from the proton collider. That represents more than 300 trillion high-speed particle collisions, more than twice the amount of data reported at a conference in August. That is still not enough data to be able to rule the Higgs definitively in or out, but it should be enough to show hints of the Higgs if it exists in the mass range that had previously not been scrutinised.
In other words, just enough to keep looking, something that some top physics directors have hinted they might not want to book time to do.
Rare moment of realism:
This time, if nothing materialises, physicists will really start giving up. “If we witness a lack of events in the full mass range, then clearly we will start disfavouring the presence of the standard model Higgs boson in LHC data,” says CMS spokesperson Guido Tonelli. “To really exclude it we would need additional data. But if in this amount of data we don’t see any indication that something is happening, the most likely hypothesis is that we have to look for another solution.”
One possible problem is, given the emotional investment, the people involved may need some on-the-spot help in determining whether they do see it, should the matter be uncertain. Meanwhile, as Grossman goes on to report, others look for other solutions.
See also: String theorist, theory in doubt, starts accusing critic of being like a vaccination opponent