Scientists at CERN say they've found a new particle consistent with the Standard Model Higgs boson with 5-sigma certainty — a false positive probability of about 1 in 9 trillion. Evidence of the particle's existence in the 126GeV mass range was gleaned from the CMS (video below) and ATLAS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. CMS spokesperson Joe Incandela explains, "this is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found."
Definitely a new particle, but is it the Higgs?
Before the particle can be determined to be the Standard Model Higgs, scientists will need to find out more about its properties in order to rule out the possibility that it's something "more exotic." While the Higgs particle would still leave us well short of a complete picture of the universe (see: gravity), it would fill a major hole in the Standard Model of particle physics by providing strong evidence for what's called electroweak symmetry — a symmetry between the weak force and the electromagnetic force. In order for the theory to work, force-carrying particles can't have any mass; a fact that's always been at odds with experimental results. The Higgs mechanism explains how particles come to acquire mass, and the Higgs Boson's discovery would confirm that the mechanism is at work.
A lot of work still needs to be done
Despite the massive excitement surrounding the results, the scientists involved are careful to label them preliminary. In a press conference following the announcement, CERN director Rolf Heuer said, "as a layman, I think we have it. But as a scientist I have to say 'what do we have?'" The data underlying the findings were collected over a period of two years, and the most recent numbers are still being analyzed. "The outstanding performance of the LHC and ATLAS and the huge efforts of many people have brought us to this exciting stage," said ATLAS spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti, "but a little more time is needed to prepare these results for publication."
So what does this mean for us? The universe is going to keep on functioning just like it always has, with stars and galaxies growing and dying. Only now, we're more confident in how we understand the fabric that composes it.