God Particle: Why The Truth About The Higgs Boson Is Still Probably Stranger Than Fiction
Physicists at Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, have announced new evidence hinting towards - although not quite confirming - the existence of the so-called God Particle, aka the Higgs Boson.
Current best guesses put the date of the Higgs' final discovery at some time towards the end of 2012.
The elusive particle is almost impossible to see with human instruments, but theoretically makes up much of the mass of the universe and helps explain missing elements in the General Model of How Stuff Works.
If that sounds simplistic, well, it is. When it comes to the Higgs Boson, it's hard to be anything but.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) itself is difficult enough to describe. It stretches for 27km around the French-Swiss border at a depth of 100m, and accelerates particles to near the speed of light in order to smash them together and inspect the debris. Costing more than £6bn it's one of the largest, most expensive and most complicated experiments in the world.
But what does that really mean? Without the bits in between - the science - the LHC just sounds like a big, weird tunnel.
The problem is that reporting about anything to do with Cern is hideously difficult for non-scientists, and doing so on deadline in under 500 words is even harder.
As such they - we - tend to simplify things a bit. The name 'God Particle', for instance, is one example. Stories using that term are read by more people than those that use the technical term 'Higgs Boson'. So the God Particle sticks, and the Higgs Boson is usually shoved in later.
Misspelling the LHC's name as the "Large Hard-On Collider" is harder to justify. It's an embarrassing mistake, but one already allegedly made by publications including the Telegraph and the New York Times. Oh, and Metro, who made the mistake earlier today.
Much of the reporting around the reports in 2009 that the Higgs Boson could be travelling back in time to sabotage its own discovery was also criticised as misleading.
Based on a series of papers by Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan, the idea is largely regarded as creative nonsense by experimental physicists. But that didn't stop virtually every respectable publication reporting it in breathless tones.
The LHC also attracts stories about the potential destruction of the world. The biggest came before the LHC was turned on for the first time, when it was theorised by an extreme minority, some of whom eventually brought the claim to court, that using the collider would create black holes large enough to destroy the world.
Cern eventually produced two studies, both endorsed by the American Physical Society, that proved that while the LHC does in fact routinely create miniature black holes, there was no chance they would cause a global catastrophe. The press listened, eventually - but cases of reporting both sides of the debate as if they were equivalent were rife at the time.
Knowing the problems that misreporting on the safety of the LHC can cause, particularly when it comes to its own battles for funding, the team at Cern has recently taken steps to educate the public (and reporters) about the extreme unlikeliness of the collider hurting anybody.
Alongside black holes, the other potential threats to humanity discussed and dismissed by Cern include 'vacuum bubbles', 'magnetic monopoles' and 'strangelets', - and discussions of each are available on Cern's website.
For their part the press has generally learned to restrain itself. Now the LHC has been running for more than a year, and will likely continue to do so for many months to come, it is now more difficult than ever to leap to silly conclusions.
Ultimately, when it comes to particle physics, the truth is likely to be stranger - and more exciting - than fiction.
For if the Higgs Boson is found it could provide insights into theories ranging from super-symmetry to string theory - and while, as usual, we don't have space here to explain just why that's quite so cool - you should probably just trust us. Honest.