'Dark universe' beckons as research target after Higgs boson wins Nobel

With the Higgs boson in
the bag, the head of the CERN research
center urged scientists on Tuesday to push on
to unveil the "dark universe" - the hidden
stuff that makes up 95 per cent of the
cosmos and is still a mystery to earthbound
researchers.
Rolf Heuer spoke after the Nobel physics
prize went to Briton Peter Higgs and Belgian
Francois Englert for predicting the existence
of the Higgs boson particle, which explains
how fundamental matter got the mass to
form stars and planets.
"We have now completed the Standard
Model," Heuer told reporters, referring to
the portrait of the known universe drafted in
the 1980s.
"It is high time for us to go on to the dark
universe," added the director general of the
world's main institution focusing on the basic
particles of nature, based near Geneva.
The Higgs boson and its associated force
field were among the last major building
blocks of that model of how the cosmos
works.
Their existence was confirmed, after three
decades, when the particle was seen last
year in CERN's underground particle
smasher, the giant Large Hadron Collider
(LHC).
The LHC, now in the middle of a two-year
refit and upgrade, is due to resume
operations in early 2015 with its power
doubled.
"That will open promising territory into new
physics," Heuer's deputy Sergio Bertolucci
said. New physics is the term used by
scientists for the realms beyond the Standard
Model that currently remain as elusive as
science-fiction.
SUPER-SYMMETRY EYED
First among these - highlighted in Nobel
acceptance comments by Englert - is super-
symmetry, the theory that all basic particles
have a heavier but invisible partner, which is
linked to concepts like string theory and
extra dimensions.
No sign of super-symmetry has yet appeared
in CERN's collider, leading some science
writers to voice doubts about the concept.
But Heuer said that just because it was
elusive did not mean it did not exist. "It took
us 30 years to find the Higgs," he added.
The LHC, in its 27-kilometre (17-mile)
circular tunnel under a corner of Switzerland
and France, was conceived in the early 1990s
at a time when particle physicists,
astrophysicists and cosmologists were
increasingly talking together.
The interchange between experts in once
separate fields has brought theories about
the universe and its nature - as well as what
came before and whether there are parallel
undetected worlds - into sharper focus.
This has also been fueled by the increasing
power of telescopes, allowing scientists to
detect indirectly that there must be some
strange substance massing around the
galaxies to keep them together. This has
become known as dark matter because it
cannot be seen, although its effects are
evident.
Recent measurements by the European Space
Agency's satellite-borne Planck telescope
found dark matter accounted for 27 percent
of the universe and the even more enigmatic
dark energy - driving galaxies apart - 68.3
percent.
Visible matter in open space - galaxies, stars
and planets - accounts for just 5 percent.
String theory says particles are in fact tiny
oscillating strings that can appear differently
depending on how they are viewed. It
requires multiple extra dimensions that have
yet to be detected.
The theory, which has partly morphed into
the M-theory espoused by British scientist
Stephen Hawking, has fierce critics. It also
allows for parallel universes - a multiverse
where universes spring into existence and die
spontaneously.