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God particle back in hiding

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Less than a month ago, Large Hadron Collider boffins thought they were closing in on the Higgs boson particle, but the results they had observed now look like a statistical quirk.

Nature is now reporting that a paper presented at the Lepton Photon conference in Mumbai, India, shows the “excess events” spotted at the LHC are fading – meaning that the physicists got worked up for nothing.

With more data gathered – about twice as much as was used in the previous analysis – the likelihood that the LHC tests had found the Higgs boson fell from 99% to 95% (in formal statistical language, the significance of the results dropped from 2.8 sigma to 2 sigma).

One aspect of the previous results remains intact: physicists remain confident that by focusing on the 120-140 GeV energy range, they are looking in the right place. Moreover, while the new results are disappointing in Higgs boson terms, the data analysis improves physicists’ understanding of the workings of W bosons, said ATLAS deputy physics coordinator Richard Hawkings.

With any luck, the narrowing window for the Higgs boson’s mass could lead to it being identified by the end of 2012. ®

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