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Skinny W particle offers thinspiration for US physicists

Mass matters, y'see

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

It seems even elementary particles resolve to lose weight* in the new year. A new calculation of the mass of the W particle (instrumental in radioactive decay) suggests that it is lighter than scientists had thought up until now.

This has implications for the particle physicists' particle: the elusive Higgs Boson. It too might be lighter than researchers have been expecting, which means it might be easier to find than everyone had thought.

The Higgs boson is a theoretical particle invoked in the 1960s by a physicist of the same name to explain why and how matter has mass. It is often referred to as "the God Particle", and has never actually been seen.

It is possible that it doesn't exist, but no existing particle accelerators are capable of the kinds of energies required to find out. This is why CERN is currently hard at work constructing the Large Hadron Collider - a huge particle accelerator that will be capable of "making" Higgs bosons. It is due to go online this year, when it will start generating truly terrifying quantities of data that will have to be mined for traces of the elusive deity-particular.

But if the W particle has gone all super skinny on us, then existing accelerators could be capable of finding the Higgs boson after all, specifically the Tevatron at Fermilab, the same institution responsible for refining the estimate of W's mass.

Wired.com quotes the journal Nature, explaining what the new estimate of W's mass means:

"This...brings the upper limit for the Higgs' mass down to 153 giga electronvolts from 166 GeV. Previous experiments have shown that the Higgs must be heavier than 114 GeV.

"A lighter Higgs suits the Tevatron, which is only capable of finding the particle if its mass is less than around 170 GeV. The closer a particle's mass is to this upper limit, the harder it would be to find.

"Anything heavier than 170 GeV would certainly have to wait for the LHC, which will smash protons together harder to probe higher energies." ®

*Please understand that this is a (poor) attempt at humour. No clarification of the difference between weight and mass is required. Thanks anyway.

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