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Higgs Boson: God Particle May Be Here. Finally!

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The weight of evidence may no longer be ignored. Two independent teams at the world's biggest atom smasher say they have both "observed" a new subatomic particle that could be the Higgs boson, the basic building block of the universe.

The Higgs is the last missing piece of the Standard Model, the theory that describes the basic building blocks of the universe. The other 11 particles predicted by the model have been found and finding the Higgs would validate the model. Ruling it out or finding something more exotic would force a rethink on how the universe is put together.

Physicists at Cern, near Geneva, home of the Large Hadron Collider, announced on Wednesday overwhelming evidence for the obscure but profoundly important Higgs boson, the particle that sparked the greatest hunt in modern science.

They stopped just shy of claiming Wednesday that the particle is the long-sought Higgs boson, known popularly as the "God particle."

"I can confirm that a particle has been discovered that is consistent with the Higgs boson theory," said John Womersley, chief executive of Britain's Science & Technology Facilities Council, at an event in London.

Joe Incandela, spokesman for one of the two teams hunting for the Higgs particle told an audience at CERN near Geneva: "This is a preliminary result, but we think it's very strong and very solid."

Formal confirmation of the discovery is expected within months, though it could take several years for scientists to work out whether they have found the simplest kind of Higgs particle that theories predict, or part of a more complex picture: for example, one of a larger family of Higgs bosons.

The Higgs particle, although crucial for understanding how the universe was formed, remains theoretical. It explains how particles clumped together to form stars, planets and even life.

Without the Higgs particle, the particles that make up the universe would have remained like a soup, the theory goes.

It is the last undiscovered piece of the Standard Model that describes the fundamental make-up of the universe. The model is for physicists what the theory of evolution is for biologists.

What scientists don't yet know from the latest findings is whether the particle they have discovered is the Higgs boson as described by the Standard Model, a variant of the Higgs or an entirely new subatomic particle that could force a rethink on the fundamental structure of matter.

The last two possibilities are, in scientific terms, the most exciting.

On Monday, physicists at a US laboratory said they have come tantalizingly close to proving the existence of the elusive subatomic Higgs boson - often called the "God particle" because it may bring mass and order to the universe.

The announcement by the Fermi National Accelerator Lab outside Chicago came two days before physicists at CERN, the European particle accelerator near Geneva, are set to unveil their own findings in the Higgs hunt. CERN houses the world's most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The Fermilab scientists found hints of the Higgs in the debris from trillions of collisions between beams of protons and anti-protons over 10 years at the lab's now-shuttered Tevatron accelerator.

But the evidence still fell short of the scientific threshold for proof of the discovery of the particle, they said, in that the same collision debris hinting at the existence of the Higgs could also come from other subatomic particles.

"This is the best answer that is out there at the moment," said physicist Rob Roser of Fermilab, which is run by the US Department of Energy. "The Tevatron data strongly point toward the existence of the Higgs boson, but it will take results from the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe to establish a firm discovery."

(With agencies)