Scientists are poised to announce they have enough evidence to show that the long-sought “God particle” answering fundamental questions about the universe almost certainly exists.
But after decades of work and billions of pounds, researchers at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN, say they are not quite ready to say they have "discovered" the particle.
Instead, experts familiar with the research at CERN's vast complex on the Swiss-French border say that the data they have obtained will essentially show the footprint of the key particle known as the Higgs boson - all but proving it exists - but does not allow them to say it has actually been glimpsed.
It appears to be a fine distinction. Senior CERN scientists say the two independent teams of physicists who plan to present their work at CERN's vast complex on the Swiss-French border on Wednesday are about as close as you can get to a discovery without actually calling it one.
"I agree that any reasonable outside observer would say, 'It looks like a discovery,"' said British theoretical physicist John Ellis from King's College London who has worked at CERN since the 1970s. "We've discovered something which is consistent with being a Higgs."
CERN's atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, has been creating high-energy collisions of protons to help them understand suspected phenomena such as dark matter, anti-matter and ultimately the creation of the universe billions of years ago, which many theorise occurred as a massive explosion known as the Big Bang.
For particle physicists, finding the Higgs boson is a key to confirming the standard model of physics that explains what gives mass to matter and, by extension, how the universe was formed.