The "God particle" gets its nickname from its elusiveness, sought for decades in experiments aimed at detecting the subatomic particle.
That particle, when found, will answer why other subatomic particles weigh what they do and perhaps will open the door to explaining the mystery of gravity.
By literally smashing together atomic particles and seeing what pieces emerge from the collisions, two physics teams at Europe's CERN lab report they have seen evidence of the God particle's existence.
CERN Director Rolf-Dieter Heuer described at the briefing the results as "tantalizing" but not a "conclusive" detection of their quarry, known to physicists as the "Higgs boson."
Physicists understand how electromagnetic and radioactive forces work. But they need to find the particle to complete their understanding of how these forces work together at the atomic level. The teams have been on the trail of the particle at a $4 billion lab experiment since 2009.
Finding the particle, (first called the "God particle" by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman) in high-energy experiments would crown three decades of experiments by physicists.
"Finding the particle gives us the detailed rules of Nature," says physicist Frank Close, author of The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe. "And those details tell how us Nature does its work, and will hopefully lead to more discoveries."
The European lab overcame fears, seen in environmental lawsuits filed in 2008, that its collisions would spawn tiny black holes that would eat the Earth, a staple of late-night television jokes four years ago.
So far, so good, and physicists have reported no signs of doomsday particles being spawned at the facility. Further results from the European lab will be reported in March. Heuer expressed confidence that the experiment would conclusively detect the Higgs boson by the end of next year.
"There's definitely enough evidence to say there is likely something there, but it's too soon to say this was the day they found the Higgs boson," Close says. "It may say that in the textbooks 20 years from now."