The decades-old hunt for the all-important particle, the Higgs boson, has been tantalizing even at the steadiest phase of the search.
Last month, physicists said they were close to finding the elusive particle, also known as the God particle. Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe and the Tevatron particle accelerator in the U.S. had led to the discovery of signals that suggested the existence of Higgs boson, the hypothetical particle that gives mass to all other particles.
However, the latest news is not euphoric. The soon-to-be-unveiled results of further research at the LHC, where huge chunks of data were analyzed to establish ranges at which the particle were not found, point that the task of finding the particle is harder now. Scientists say it looks possible now that the elusive particle may not exist at all.
I think it has always been a possibility that the Higgs would not be there but I don't think we are ready to say that at this moment, LHC scientist Howard Gordon said.
In July scientists believed that the 40-year search for the God particle was tantalizingly close to the end.
I hope the big discoveries will come next year ... I would say we can settle the question, the Shakespearean question — ‘to be or not to be’ — by the end of next year, Rolf Heuer, director-general of the CERN research centre, had said then.
The potential finding of the particle was perceived as one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of all time and there was a high level of media frenzy over the developments last month.
This is what physicists are saying now:
We are definitely approaching the end game in looking for the Higgs ... But we don't want to give the impression that the answer is just around the corner, said CERN spokesman James Gillies, speaking at the biennial Lepton-Photon conference in Mumbai, India.
Scientists say they recorded and analyzed massive amounts of data at the LHC over the past month. But this has led to the ruling out of all masses for the Higgs between 145 and 466 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), which encompasses the mass area which is the easiest for physicists to explore. That means the task lying ahead is tougher than ever.
Gillies said: We're ruling out the easy bits, and we're leaving the harder bits still to study ... There's still a lot of space left, but it's the space that's harder for us to analyse.
He told the BBC News that the Higgs is much easier to see in some mass areas than in others. It was always going to be easier to find it in some mass areas or exclude it quite quickly. And now what we're being left with is the harder part; the regions where it's harder for us to see and harder to pick out the signal from the background, he said.
Finding the Higgs boson is crucial as the elusive particle forms the basis of the Standard theory in particle physics. The standard model theory built the framework in modern times for the understanding of the way the universe, with the help of the Higgs boson hypothesis. It offered the notional structure of the nature of matter and how the universe came into being.
Higgs boson is the lynchpin of this theory and a lot of mysteries shrouding the beginning of the universe are locked in the Higgs boson. Its discovery will, first and foremost, help scientists answer long-held questions like what is the source of mass and why some particles have mass and others don't have.
It will also help them throw light on the supersymmetric particles and thereby throw light on the investigation into the make-up of dark matter.
If it is not found, scientists will have to change the standard model postulation through which they explained how sub-atomic particles interacted with each other. If the Higgs boson is ruled out, another explanation for how particles get their mass will be needed.
Discoveries are almost assured within the next 12 months. If the Higgs exists, the LHC experiments will soon find it. If it does not, its absence will point the way to new physics, says CERN research director Sergio Bertolucci.
Though scientists are gearing up to enter an arduous phase in the search for Higgs boson, they are excited about the prospects. They say the God particle cannot remain in hiding forever, and soon it will be established if the all-important particle exists or not.
If it is found, it will certainly be one of the biggest scientific discoveries in recent times. If it is proved that the hypothetical particle does not exist, it will open up new avenues for research in particle physics.
Whatever the final verdict on the Higgs, we're now living in very exciting times for all involved in the quest for new physics, physicist Guido Tonelli was quoted by the BBC as saying.