Figure: The Higgs Boson. As of 2002 there has still not been a detection of this illusive particle, but physicists continue to narrow the range of possibilities for its mass. This plot shows a typical estimate for this range from current experimental limits. (Credit: Peter Kalmus (Queen Mary and Westfield College, London) and Iop Publishing Ltd.)
These fields seem to be a 'missing link' in our most elementary understanding of matter that physicists have been looking for, for decades. They are expected to provide us with clues to why things have mass, because the Higgs field seems to be the agency that gives various types of particles their mass, such as neutrinos, electrons and quarks. They may also provide us with a clue about the nature of Dark Energy. Since the 1980's, the Standard Model of how the basic forces of nature operate has included this field as a part of space itself. Its role is to interact with electrons, quarks and neutrinos to give them their mass, just as the color of a wine determines if it will be served with fish or beef. It also explains why the electromagnetic and weak forces can be so similar and 'unified' at high energy, but so very different at low energy. The Higgs field is carried by particles called Higgs Bosons. Unlike the photon, W and Z particles, and gluons, which provide the electromagnetic, weak and nuclear forces, the Higgs Boson carries no spin at all. Spin is a quantum property of matter that has no analogous concept at the human scale. Once you discover this spinless particle, this opens the door that there may also exist other particles that have no spin as well. Theorists say that some of these spinless fields were involved in the era of Inflation, which caused the universe to expand enormously. Cosmologists and physicists think that the mysterious Dark Energy causing our universe to accelerate in its expansion is related to these new spin-zero particles. If we can discover signs of the Higgs Boson in our laboratories on Earth, it may help us understand what Dark Energy is in the larger universe around us. So far as Figure 21 shows, right now physicists can only use their data to estimate what the mass of this particle will be in today's universe. Many physicists are convinced that the next generation of experiments at CERN or Fermilab will turn up signs of this particle which is heavier than an atom of gold - and worth far more in its discovery.
This answer was updated in 2011.
See my books:
The Astronomy Cafe (1998) and
Back to the Astronomy Cafe (2003) for more FAQs in printed form. Author: Dr. Sten Odenwald, Copyright 2011
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