Space Fan News #69: Higgs Boson Found, Just Like Downtown; First Dark Matter Filament Discovered

Uploaded by tdarnell on 07.07.2012

I've been doing these Space Fan News videos of a while now and from time to time, one
of the things I say to put an exclamation point on a particular discovery or exciting
bit of news is I'll say, "just like downtown".
And many of you get it, but there's always a certain percentage of space fans out there
who get frustrated and leave comments saying, 'will someone please tell me what just like
downtown means?'
Well, setting aside for the moment the fact that you can just google it, this week I have
the perfect example of what I mean when I say 'just like downtown'.
By now, you've all heard the announcement from the CERN folks running the Large Hadron
Collider that they've found the elusive Higgs Boson.
Or, as they always want to add, something just like it. I guess they want to cover their
butts, but come on, they found it.
Here's the money plot:
This is the ATLAS result for the two-photon channel and here you can see a beautifully
clear bump in the data at 126 GeV. That peak means the collider ran into something at that
energy, which is the spot they expected to run into a Higgs particle.
And the height of this bump is twice as large as expected, which could be huge news, but
Sean Carroll points out that the error at that height is substantial so it may be too
early to make anything of it.
So as you can see here, they found the Higgs boson, or as Sean says, a Higgs. From this
experiment, we still can't tell if its a standard model-type vanilla Higgs boson or some special
But it's there, no mistaking it this time. OK, so what's a Higgs Boson and why do you
care? This Higgs Boson is the particle associated with a Higgs Field and that field permeates
everything, the entire universe, including the vacuum of space.
If you're a particle and you're in this field, which you are because it's everywhere, like
the space-time of the universe, then how much mass you have depends on how well you interact
with that field.
Lighter particles like the electron don't interact as well with the field and so they
have less mass and larger particles, like the proton, interact with it more and get
more mass as a result. So how well you interact with that field, determines how much mass
you have.
To be a little more precise, as I said, the announcement this week said only that they
found a particle where the Higgs is supposed to be. They don't know anything more about
it, like whether it has a spin or any of its other properties.
But they found it, right where it should be and the signal was twice the expected size.
Pretty conclusive stuff.
Now, why do you care? Well, this is where just like downtown come in.
This discovery is the ultimate example of Just Like Downtown. Here we have a case where
scientists have a theory about what the Universe should be like, they found all these particles
explaining what we observe in the universe and they came up with something called the
Standard Model.
Everything's going great - the standard model is explaining everything we observe around
us wonderfully, but there was this one piece missing, one particle left unseen and undiscovered.
If they never found it, then all our theories are wrong and we have to start all over.
So here we are: we think we have a good picture of the way things work in the universe, but
something's missing. it should be there, but where is it?
Turns out it's gonna be hard to find - and expensive. So they built this hugely expensive
machine to try to find the missing piece. Billions of dollars… just to make sure we
know what we think we know and to discover something never seen before.
Now you may think money like that is better spent on other things but you'd be wrong.
It is vital that we continue to explore our universe and make new discoveries - even if
they are expensive - because it is only when we embark on things like this that humans
beings really grow and prosper in meaningful ways.
One surefire path to doom is to stop seeking answers to questions just because they're
Think about it, we've picked all the low-hanging fruit the easy questions have been answered,
all questions going forward are going to be harder and more expensive to try and answer
and we can't just stop now, we've come too far.
Science will always be our first, best path to the prosperity, the success of our species
and our planet.
So they build this thing in Switzerland to find a really hard thing. Lots of smart people
said the particle should be there, others were not so sure. We spent, we built and we
looked, and on July 4th 2012, they announced:
There it is. Just like it should have been.
Just like downtown.
So, when I say Just Like Downtown, what I mean is that things are going just as they
should, everything's easy peesy japanesey. I hope this helps many of you understand what
I mean when I say that.
The real irritating thing to me about this whole thing is that we could have found this
out a decade ago right in the United States if Congress had just paid for the Superconducting
Supercollider. If you've never heard of that, do a google search on it.
It's downright embarrassing.
I think Neil Degrasse Tyson said it best when he sent out this tweet: "On the day we reserve
to tell ourselves America is great - July 4th - Europe reminds us that we suck at science."
Congrats to all a CERN for taking the lead on this and for doing excellent science, now
you guys can sit back and wait for the nobel prizes.
And thank you for showing one more thing about the universe we didn't know yesterday.
Next, now that particle physicists get their new particle, it's time for cosmologists to
get theirs: dark matter. We need to figure out what it is and what it's made of and this
week, we've made a little more progress.
Jörg Dietrich of the University Observatory Munich, in Germany and other astronomers studying
the two galaxy clusters Abell 222 and 223 have found that they are connected by a dark
matter filament, forming a gravitational bridge between the two clusters.
They found it using our old friend gravitational lensing, one of the best tools we have for
finding dark matter. We can only dark matter when light coming from very distant galaxies
travels through it and is bent or distorted by the gravity of whatever it's made of and
there's no other stars or galaxies that could have caused it.
Many astronomers thought they'd have to wait for telescopes like the Webb Space Telescope
to be able to find filaments like these, but this team was able to benefit from a rare
spatial geometry which amplified the signal between the two clusters.
Abell 222 and Abell 223 are arranged in such a way that they appear very close together
against the sky, but in reality one is farther away than the other along our line of sight.
This means that most of the mass of the system is condensed into one small area of the sky
so any light arriving at Earth from behind those clusters will have to pass though them
both, which boosts the gravitational lensing signal.
According to Jörg Dietrich, "This is the first time [a dark matter filament] has been
convincingly detected from its gravitational lensing effect. It's a resounding confirmation
of the standard theory of structure formation of the universe. And it's a confirmation people
didn't think was possible at this point."
Well, that's it for this week space fans, thank you for watching and as always, Keep
Looking Up!