I know, there's already a dozen of nice summaries on blogs (for example here, here, and here) so why do you need another one? Anyway... the new release of LHC Higgs results is the clue of this year's HCP conference (HCP is the acronym for Human CentiPede). The game is completely different than a few months ago: there's no doubt that a 126 GeV Higgs-like particle is there in the data, and nobody gives a rat's ass whether the signal significance is 5 or 11 sigma. The relevant question now is whether the observed properties of the new particle match those of the standard model Higgs. From that point of view, today's update brought some new developments, all of them depressing.
The money plots from ATLAS and CMS summarize it all:
We're seeing the Higgs in more and more channels, and the observed rates are driven, as if by magic, to the vertical line denoting the standard model rate.
It came to a point where the most exciting thing about the new Higgs release was what wasn't there :-) It is difficult not to notice that the easy Higgs search channels, h→γγ and ATLAS h→ZZ→4l, were not updated. In ATLAS, the reason was the discrepancy between the Higgs masses measured in those 2 channels: the best fit mass came out 123.5 GeV in the h→ZZ→4l, and 126.5 GeV in the h→γγ channel. The difference is larger than the estimated mass resolution, therefore ATLAS decided to postpone the update in order to carefully investigate the problem. On the other hand in CMS, after unblinding the new analysis in the h→γγ channel, the signal strength went down by more than they were comfortable with; in particular the new results are not very consistent with what was presented on the 4th of July. Most likely, all these analyses will be released before the end of the year, after more cross-checking is done.
Among the things that were there, the biggest news is the h→ττ decay. Last summer there were some hints that the ττ channel might be suppressed, as the CMS exclusion limit was reaching the standard model rate. It seems that the bug in the code has been corrected: CMS, and also ATLAS, now observe an excess of events over the non-Higgs backgrounds consistent with what we expect from the standard model Higgs. The excess is not enough to claim observation of this particular decay, but enough to suppress the hopes that some interesting physics is lurking here.
Another important update concerns the h→bb decay, for the Higgs produced together with a W or Z boson. Here, in contrast, earlier hints from the Tevatron suggested that the rate might be enhanced by a factor of 2 or so. The LHC experiments are now at the point of surpassing the Tevatron sensitivity in that channel, and they don't see any enhancement: CMS observes the rate slightly above the standard model one (though again, the excess is not enough to claim observation), while ATLAS sees a large negative fluctuation. Also, the Tevatron has revised downward the reported signal strength, now that they know it should be smaller. So, again, it's "move on folks, nothing to see here"...
What does this all mean for new physics? If one goes beyond the standard model, the Higgs couplings to matter can take in principle arbitrary values, and the LHC measurements can be interpreted as constraints on these coupling. As it is difficult to plot a multi-dimensional parameter space, for presentation purposes one makes simplifying assumptions. One common ansatz is to assume that all tree-level Higgs couplings to gauge bosons get rescaled by a factor cV, and all couplings to fermions get rescaled by an independent factor cf. The standard model corresponds to the point cf=cV=1. Every Higgs measurement selects a preferred region in the cV-cf parameter space, and measurements in different channels constrain different combinations of cV and cf. The plot on the right shows 1-sigma bands corresponding to individual decay channels, and the 68%CL and 99%CL preferred regions after combining all LHC Higgs measurements. At the end of the day, the standard model agrees well with the data. There is however a lower χ2 minimum in the region of the parameter space where the relative sign between the Higgs couplings to gauge bosons and to fermions is flipped. The sign does not matter for most of the measurements, except in the h→γγ channel. The reason is that h→γγ is dominated by two 1-loop processes, one with the W boson and one with the top quark in the loop. Flipping the sign changes the interference between these two processes from destructive to constructive, the latter leading to an enhancement of the h→γγ rate in agreement with observations. On the down side, I'm not aware of any model where the flipped sign would come out naturally (and anyway the h→γγ will go down after CMS updates h→γγ, probably erasing the preference for the non-SM minimum).
Finally, we learned at the HCP that the LHC is taking precision Higgs measurements to a new level, probing not only the production rates but also more intricate properties of the Higgs signal. In particular, CMS presented an analysis of the data in the h→ZZ→4l channel that discriminates between a scalar and a pseudoscalar particle. What this really means is that they discriminate between 2 operators allowing a decay of the Higgs into Z bosons:
The first operator occurs in the standard model at tree level, and leads to a preference for decays into longitudinally polarized Z bosons. The other is the lowest order coupling possible for a pseudoscalar, and leads to decays into transversely polarized Z bosons only. By looking at the angular distributions of the leptons from Z decays (a transverse Z prefers to emit leptons along the direction of motion, while a longitudinal Z - perpendicularly to the direction of motion) one can determine the relative amount of transverse and longitudinal Z bosons in the Higgs sample, and thus discriminate between the two operators. CMS observes a slight 2.5 sigma preference for the standard model operator, which is of course not surprising (it'd be hard to understand why the h→ZZ rate is so close to the standard model one if the other operator was responsible for the decay). With more data we will obtain more meaningful constraints on the higher dimensional couplings of the Higgs.
To summarize, many particle theorists were placing their bets that Higgs physics is the most likely place where new physics may show up. Unfortunately, the simplest and most boring version of the Higgs predicted by the standard model is emerging from the LHC data. It may be the right time to start scanning job ads in condensed matter or neuroscience ;-)
All Higgs parallel session talks are here (the password is given in the dialog box).