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The particle credited with giving others mass, the Higgs boson, may also be to blame for the universe flying apart ever faster. That's because the Higgs boson could, in principle, be giving rise to dark energy.

The standard model of particle physics encompasses the fundamental particles that make up matter, as well as associated fields. The photon, for instance, is tied to the electromagnetic field. Discovered last year, the Higgs boson also comes with an associated field but, unlike others of its class, the Higgs field is scalar – it does not act in a specific direction.

Taken together, the known particle fields create a certain density of energy permeating the universe. Before the discovery of dark energy, particle physicists were worried that the simplest versions of the standard model predicted an enormous, possibly infinite energy density that would force the universe to expand at an ever-increasing rate.

That seemed improbable until observations of distant supernovae showed that galaxies are not only moving away from each other, but accelerating. The discovery seemed to resolve the issue, but it turns out that the culprit, which we now call dark energy, is much weaker than the standard model indicates.

"It's very different from what we would predict," says Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "This is the profound embarrassment of this fundamental feature of the universe."

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