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Life after Higgs boson: What's next for the world's largest atom smasher?

It's a Higgs boson!! Now what? After confirming that the particle discovered last July really is a Higgs boson, the Large Hadron Collider is ready to look for other universes, figure out dark matter, recreate the Big Bang, or find something totally unexpected.

The Large Hadron Collider, in its underground tunnel beneath France and Switzerland, found the data that confirms what LHC scientists suspected last July: They found a Higgs boson.

Martial Trezzini / Keystone / AP / File

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Less than five years after it went live, the Large Hadron Collider has confirmed the existence of a Higgs boson, the particle which may explain how other particles get their mass.

The confirmation comes today (March 14), after a July 2012 announcement of the elementary particle's discovery. At the time, researchers strongly suspected they'd found a Higgs, but needed to collect more data. Since then, they've more than doubled the amount of data they have on the particle using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mille-long (27 kilometers) underground ring on the French-Swiss border where protons zing around at near the speed of light.

With a Higgs boson discovered, what more is there for this enormous and unusual piece of machinery to do? Lots, according to physicists.

For one thing, scientists are still working out whether the Higgs boson they've discovered fits the Standard Model of physics or if it better fits another theory. (So far, the Standard Model appears to be the winning candidate.)

And the hunt for the Higgs boson is just one of the ongoing projects at the particle accelerator. Other projects have such humble goals as explaining dark matter, revealing the symmetries of the universe and even looking for new dimensions of space, according to the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation

"It really is a machine that's capable of going to higher energies, maybe ultimately to a factor of seven times higher energy," said Peter Woit, a physicist at Columbia University. "Which means going to distances seven times smaller and basically looking for anything you can find."


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