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August 29, 2011

Scientists chasing a particle they believe may have played a vital role in creation of the universe indicated last week that they were coming to accept that it might not exist after all.

But they stressed that if the so-called Higgs boson turns out to have been a mirage, the way would be open for advances into territory dubbed “new physics” to try to answer one of the great mysteries of the cosmos.

The CERN research center, whose giant Large Hadron Collider has been the focus of the search, said it had reported to a conference in Mumbai that possible signs of the Higgs noted last month were now seen as less significant.

A number of scientists from the center, whose formal name is the European Organization for Nuclear Research, went on to make comments that raised the possibility that the mystery particle might not exist. “Whatever the final verdict on Higgs, we are now living in very exciting times for all involved in the quest for new physics,” Guido Tonelli, a spokesman at CERN, which is located near Geneva.

CERN’s statement said new results, which updated findings that caused excitement at a scientific gathering in Grenoble last month, “show that the elusive Higgs particle, if it exists, is running out of places to hide.”

Under what is known as the Standard Model of physics, the boson, which was named after British physicist Peter Higgs and is sometimes know as the God particle, is posited as having been the agent that gave mass and energy to matter just after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.

For some scientists, the Higgs remains the simplest explanation of how matter got mass. It remains unclear what could replace it as an explanation. “We know something is missing; we simply don’t quite know what this new something might be,” wrote CERN blogger Pauline Gagnon.

— Robert Evans, Reuters

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