The centuries old question of why the universe has mass may be one step closer to being answered.

Today the European nuclear physics lab Cern announced it has discovered a particle that fits the bill for the elusive Higgs Boson – the theoretical particle thought to be responsible for generating mass.

If it is the Higgs it will be the final missing ingredient in the Standard Model of particle physics, the theory which explains all known particles and the forces that act upon them.

The candidate particle was identified by experiments inside the lab’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator – which bangs together sub-atomic particles at close to the speed of light and then analyses the resulting debris. The energy of these collisions is equivalent to that billionths of a second after the Big Bang.

The ATLAS and CMS detectors inside the LHC have observed the new particle at mass ranges of 125 – 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) – many times heavier than than the neutron inside the atom and within the mass range predicted for the Higgs Boson.

The lab is cross-checking the results of the experiment before publishing, although apparently the chance of the result being a fluke is no more than one in two million.

The next step for the lab will be to determine the precise nature of the particle and its significance for our understanding of the universe. The discovery could also help shed light on dark matter and dark energy, the unseen substances that are thought to make up 96 per cent of our universe.

Check out TechRepublic stories on the Large Hadron Collider and the computers that Cern used to make this landmark discovery: