(Reuters) - Scientists at Europe's CERN research centre have found a new subatomic particle, a basic building block of the universe, which appears to be the boson imagined and named half a century ago by theoretical physicist Peter Higgs.

"We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature," CERN director general Rolf Heuer told a gathering of scientists and the world's media near Geneva on Wednesday.

"The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle's properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe."

Two independent studies of data produced by smashing proton particles together at CERN's Large Hadron Collider produced a convergent near-certainty on the existence of the new particle. It is unclear whether it is exactly the boson Higgs described.

But addressing scientists assembled in the CERN auditorium, Heuer posed them a question: "As a layman, I would say I think we have it. Would you agree?" A roar of applause said they did.

For some, there was no doubt the Higgs boson is found: "It's the Higgs," said Jim Al-Khalili of Surrey University, a British physicist and popular broadcaster. "The announcement from CERN is even more definitive and clear-cut than most of us expected."

Higgs, now 83, from Edinburgh University was among six theorists who in the early 1960s proposed the existence of a mechanism by which matter in the universe gained mass. Higgs himself argued that if there were an invisible field responsible for the process, it must be made up of particles.

He and some of the others were at CERN to welcome news of what, to the embarrassment of many scientists, some commentators have labeled the "God particle", for its role in turning the Big Bang into a living universe. Clearly overwhelmed, his eyes welling up, Higgs told the symposium of fellow researchers: "It is an incredible thing that it has happened in my lifetime." 

 

Also read more and join the discussion in an article by Lawrence Krauss on Slate that was posted earlier today.

Note that the discussion thread for both articles is combined.