Just before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, June 20, 2012, the elusive Higgs boson made science history: it topped the list of trending Twitter topics -- all because of a flurry of rumors that began on a handful of physics blogs, and quickly spread to media outlets.
It started when physics blogger Peter Woit of Not Even Wrong posted a short item:
Reliable rumors couldn’t wait, and they indicate that the experiments are seeing much the same thing as last year in this year’s new data: strong hints of a Higgs around 125 GeV. The main channel investigated is the gamma-gamma channel where they are each seeing about a 4 sigma signal.
Translation: Both the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider have detected signals that could very well be the Higgs boson in their latest data, right in the range where the LHC announced preliminary results last December.
Back then, ATLAS reported a 3.5 sigma signal, while CMS reported a 2.6 sigma signal.
This is not sufficient to warrant a declaration of discovery; you need a five-sigma signal or higher for that. But it was certainly a tantalizing hint.
The latest rumors center on a possible 4-sigma result -- very close to the threshold indeed. Cue Higgsmania!
All this has particle physicists a bit exasperated with all the hysteria -- like Matt Strassler, who noted that "the experimentalists can't possibly have their data in presentable form yet, so the rumors can't be correct in every detail."
"Please do not believe the blogs," Fabiola Gianotti, the spokeswoman for ATLAS, pleaded in an e-mail to theNew York Times' Dennis Overbye.
And Michael Schmitt of the Collider Blog questioned whether all these wild rumors floating about are really worth the extra blog traffic, given the grief they cause for colleagues:
Whatever they are, the results will be announced at the International Conference on High Energy Physics, or ICHEP, in Melbourne, Australia, starting July 4. So, you know, chillax, people. We'll know one way or the other in just a few weeks.
In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to highlight some of my personal faves from those wags on Twitter having fun with the #HiggsRumors hashtag. Enjoy! (And you can buy the plushie Higgs boson pictured above here.)