Higgs Boson and Dark Matter, Part 1

The discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (the LHC, at CERN, near Geneva) was announced on the 4th of July, 2012. This new particle was the important missing component of the Standard Model of particle physics; the Standard Model has had great success in describing the three non-gravitational forces: electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force.

The mass of the Higgs is about 126 GeV (giga electron-Volts) and by way of comparison the proton mass is a bit under 1 GeV.  The Higgs particle is highly unstable, with a decay lifetime of only about one tenth of one billionth of one trillionth of a second (10^-22 seconds). While the  Higgs field pervades all of space, the particle requires very high energy conditions to “pop out” of the field for a very short while. The only place where these conditions exist on Earth is at the LHC.

The Higgs boson is not detected directly at LHC, but inferred (with high confidence) through the detection of its decay products. The main decay channels are shown in the pie chart below, and include bottom quarks, W vector bosons (which mediate the weak force), gluons (which mediate the strong force holding quarks inside protons and neutrons), tau leptons (very heavy members of the electron family), Z vector bosons (also weak force mediators), and even some photon decay channels. While the two photon channel is rare, much less than 1% of the decays, it is the most important channel used for the Higgs detection because of the “clean” signal provided.


What is the relationship between the Higgs and dark matter? In an earlier blog, http://wp.me/p1mZmr-3K , I discussed why the Higgs particle itself cannot be the explanation for dark matter. Dark matter must be stable; it must persist over the nearly 14 billion year lifetime of the universe. In today’s universe it’s very difficult and expensive to create a Higgs particle and it vanishes immediately.

But in the very early universe, at a tiny fraction of a second after its creation (less than the present-day Higgs boson lifetime!), the “temperature” and energy levels were so high that the Higgs particle (or more than one type of Higgs particle) would have been abundant, and as today it would have decayed to many other, lighter, particles. Could it be the source of dark matter? It’s quite plausible, if dark matter is due to WIMPs – an undiscovered, stable, weakly interacting massive particle. That dark matter is due to some type of WIMP is currently a favored explanation among physicists and cosmologists. WIMPs are expected from extensions to the Standard Model, especially supersymmetry models.

One possible decay channel would be for the Higgs boson to decay to two dark matter WIMPs. In such a decay to two particles (a WIMP of some sort and its anti-particle), each would have to have a rest mass energy equivalent of less than half of the 126 GeV Higgs boson mass; that is, the dark matter particle mass would have to be 63 GeV or less.

There may be more than one type of Higgs boson, and another Higgs family particle could be the main source of decays to dark matter. In supersymmetric extensions to the Standard Model, there is more than one Higgs boson expected to exist. In fact the simplest supersymmetric model has 5 Higgs particles! 

Interestingly, there are 3 experiments which are claiming statistically significant detections of dark matter, these are DAMA/LIBRA, COGENT,  and CDMS-II. And they are all suggesting a dark matter particle mass in the neighborhood of just 10 GeV. Heavy, compared to a proton, but quite acceptable in mass to be decay products from the Higgs in the early universe. It’s not a problem that such a mass might be much less than 63 GeV as the energy in the decay could also be carried off by additional particles, or as kinetic energy (momentum) of the dark matter decay products.

At the LHC the search is underway for dark matter as a result of Higgs boson decays, but none has been found. The limits on the cross-section for production of dark matter from Higgs decay do not conflict with the possible direct detection experiments mentioned above.

The search for dark matter at the LHC will actively continue in 2015, after the collision energy for the accelerator is upgraded from 8 TeV to 14 TeV (trillion electron-Volts). The hope is that the chances of detecting dark matter will increase as well. It’s a very difficult search because dark matter would not interact with the detectors directly. Rather its presence must be inferred from extra energy and momentum not accounted for by known particles seen in the LHC’s detectors.



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