Famed physicist and science writer Michio Kaku said it best: if physics doesn’t discover the Higgs Boson Particle it would be a “disaster” for modern physics. The entire edifice of cosmology we’ve been taught to believe real – from the Big Bang to black holes, dark matter and dark energy, it all collapses.
Well, the most highly touted scientific breakthrough of the year, the discovery of the Higgs Boson Particle by the CERN supercollider facility in Switzerland, is one of two things: the confirmation of physics, an event of such magnitude that physics will have to wonder what they’re going to do with themselves – or a fiasco that announces a “tipping point” in physics, which would then have to crumple a century’s worth of theory and toss it into the trash can, starting over from scratch. There is a renegade group of scientists who firmly believe the latter will be the case. They brandish the theory that the universe is primarily electric, not gravitationally-driven, and their star witness is very much a star: none other than the Sun.
The Higgs particle is the final, and necessary subatomic particle postulated by physics, the final member of a family that includes not only the familiar proton, neutron, and electron, but also the neutrino and the quark. Among these particles, the Higgs’ role is critical: it supplies mass; indeed, it explains why there are objects with mass in the universe at all.
So what is the problem? The problem is that the actual results announced by CERN do not match the Higgs field as it was advertised. Once the data from the summer announcement was finally released to the public in November,
The original Higgs data from back in July had shown that the Higgs seemed to be decaying into two photons more often than it should—an enticing though faint hint of something new, some sort of physics beyond our understanding. In November, scientists at the Atlas and LHC experiments updated everything except the two-photon data. This week we learned why.
Yesterday researchers at the Atlas experiment finally updated the two-photon results. What they seem to have found is bizarre—so bizarre, in fact, that physicists assume something must be wrong with it. Instead of one clean peak in the data, they have found two. There seems to be a Higgs boson with a mass of 123.5 GeV (gigaelectron volts, the measuring unit that particle physicists most often use for mass), and another Higgs boson at 126.6 GeV—a statistically significant difference of nearly 3 GeV.
This is explained as “a statistical fluke” or the result of a mechanical error. The CERN Large Hadron Collider team has announced that it will iron out these problems before March, when it plans to announce its success in finding the elusive particle. Others aren’t so sure. Science writer Michael Moyer observes “But more data has now arrived, and the blip hasn’t gone anywhere. The Higgs boson continues to appear to be decaying into two photons nearly twice as often as it should.”
This raises an ominous question: Are two different Higgs Boson particles any Higgs Boson particle at all? Have physicists simply discovered yet another of an infinite regression of particles? Have they discovered anything important at all?
Michael Moyer has his doubts. So does science writer Michael Slezak, noting that
The Higgs boson is sending mixed signals: its mass seems to vary depending on how it is measured. What’s more, oddities in the way it decays into other particles, first noticed when the team at the Large Hadron Collider announced the discovery of a new boson in July, do not seem to be going away.
It would be too much to say that either Moyer or Slezak doubt the Higgs discovery or the Standard Model generally. However, there is at least one school of scientists that entertains something considerably stronger than doubt. They’re ready to call the entire project of cosmology since Einstein fundamentally misguided. According to them, there are no black holes, no dark matter or energy, and there never was a Big Bang. According to this school of thought, all this is a misinterpretation of scanty experimental data.
In fact, according to them, it is something worse. Modern physics as we understand it, as has been explained to the public by science-spokesmen like Kaku, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Brian Greene, is almost entirely a product of mathematical modeling which decades ago unmoored itself from any responsibility to make deductions based upon observed data coming from nature. And the universe they describe looks quite different from the universe with which we have come to be familiar.
They are the Plasma Cosmology school, or, more popularly, the Electric Universe school. They claim to have observed anomalies all across the universe, things observed through telescopes that cannot be explained by the Standard Model. They claim a winning of streak of predictions they have made that have been confirmed, to the consternation of physics who live by the Standard Model. Such anomalies include the results of the Deep Impact collision on Comet Tempel One; they include galaxies that are redshifting at different speeds – according to what we have been told about the nature of redshifting – but which are visibly connected to each other.
Above all, they include the Sun, which has a number of features that have no satisfactory explanation according to the Standard Model. The Standard Model, which holds that the heart of the Sun is a fusion reactor, has great difficulty explaining why the solar atmosphere is millions of degrees hotter than the surface; why the corona exists at all; what sunspots are, and why, while being the parts of the Sun closest to the interior, are the coolest parts of the Sun’s surface; why the solar wind accelerates when it leaves the Sun; why the Sun has differential rotation at different latitudes; and several other features.
The core thesis of Electric Universe cosmology is that the predominant force in the Universe is not, as the Standard Model would have us believe, but rather, a vastly more powerful force: electromagnetism. The consequences of this difference are enormous. For instance, we now have a Sun whose power does not come from within it, but from outside. Both the Sun and other generators of power in the universe – Black Holes, pulsars, quasars, etc. – are rather to be understood as nodes in a cosmic webwork of electrical filaments spanning the universe. A star like our Sun is best understood as a node where two or more such filaments meet in space.
Electric Universe advocates point to more. They claim to have produced scalable examples of the Sun, the galaxy, and other bodies in laboratory experiments, using nothing but Electric Universe principles. Accordingly, they hold in polite scorn the physics we have come to know as a sort of elephantiasis of mathematics, in which anomalies are explained away by ad hoc speculation. Particles such as the Higgs Boson particle are perfect examples of such speculation. No one has actually observed them. They were inferred mathematically, then “proven” through experiments that offered various forms of indirect proof. Indirect -and, as we have seen with the Higgs, inexact as well.
The stakes are high, so the resistance is fierce. If the Electric Universe people are right, all physicists now working, are working on nothing; all physics students are learning nothing; enormous sums of money have been allocated for nothing. A scientific crisis quickly morphs into a vast professional crisis. And we who simply wish to learn about the universe will have to start over again from scratch.
by Todd Jackson