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Latest global fits to SM observables: the situation in March 2009 March 25, 2009

Posted by dorigo in news, physics, science.
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A recent discussion in this blog between well-known theorists and phenomenologists, centered on the real meaning of the experimental measurements of top quark and W boson masses, Higgs boson cross-section limits, and other SM observables, convinces me that some clarification is needed.

The work has been done for us: there are groups that do exactly that, i.e. updating their global fits to express the internal consistency of all those measurements, and the implications for the search of the Higgs boson. So let me go through the most important graphs below, after mentioning that most of the material comes from the LEP electroweak working group web site.

First of all, what goes in the soup ? Many things, but most notably, the LEP I/SLD measurements at the Z pole, the top quark mass measurements by CDF and DZERO, and the W mass measurements by CDF, DZERO, and LEP II. Let us give a look at the mass measurements, which have recently been updated.

For the top mass, the situation is the one pictured in the graph shown below. As you can clearly see, the CDF and DZERO measurements have reached a combined precision of 0.75% on this quantity.

The world average is now at M_t = 173.1 \pm 1.3 GeV. I am amazed to see that the first estimate of the top mass, made by a handful of events published by CDF in 1994 (a set which did not even provide a conclusive “observation-level” significance at the time) was so dead-on: the measurement back then was M_t=174 \pm 15 GeV! (for comparison, the DZERO measurement of 1995, in their “observation” paper, was M_t=199 \pm 30 GeV).

As far as global fits are concerned, there is one additional point to make for the top quark: knowing the top mass any better than this has become, by now, useless. You can see it by comparing the constraints on M_t coming from the indirect measurements and W mass measurements (shown by the blue bars at the bottom of the graph above) with the direct measurements at the Tevatron (shown with the green band). The green band is already too narrow: the width of the blue error bars compared to the narrow green band tells us that the SM does not care much where exactly the top mass is, by now.

Then, let us look at the W mass determinations. Note, the graph below shows the situation BEFORE the latest DZERO result;, obtained with 1/fb of data, and which finds M_W = 80401 \pm 44 MeV; its inclusion would not change much of the discussion below, but it is important to stress it.

Here the situation is different: a better measurement would still increase the precision of our comparisons with indirect information from electroweak measurements at the Z. This is apparent by observing that the blue bars have width still smaller than the world average of direct measurements (again in green). Narrow the green band, and you can still collect interesting information on its consistency with the blue points.

Finally, let us look at the global fit: the electroweak working group at LEP displays in the by now famous “blue band plot”, shown below for March 2009 conferences. It shows the constraints on the Higgs boson mass coming from all experimental inputs combined, assuming that the Standard Model holds.

I will not discuss this graph in details, since I have done it repeatedly in the past. I will just mention that the yellow regions have been excluded by direct searches of the Higgs boson at LEP II (on the left, the wide yellow area) and the Tevatron ( the narrow strip on the right). From the plot you should just gather that a light Higgs mass is preferred (the central value being 90 GeV, with +36 and -27 GeV one-sigma error bars). Also, a 95% confidence-level exclusion of masses above 163 GeV is implied by the variation of the global fit \chi^2 with Higgs mass.

I have started to be a bit bored by this plot, because it does not do the best job for me. For one thing, the LEP II limit and the Tevatron limit on the Higgs mass are treated as if they were equivalent in their strength, something which could not be possibly farther from the truth. The truth is, the LEP II limit is a very strong one -the probability that the Higgs has a mass below 112 GeV, say, is one in a billion or so-, while the limit obtained recently by the Tevatron is just an “indication”, because the excluded region (160 to 170 GeV) is not excluded strongly: there still is a one-in-twenty chance or so that the real Higgs boson mass indeed lies there.

Another thing I do not particularly like in the graph is that it attempts to pack too much information: variations of \alpha, inclusion of low-Q^2 data, etcetera. A much better graph to look at is the one produced by the GFitter group instead. It is shown below.

In this plot, the direct search results are introduced with their actual measured probability of exclusion as a function of Higgs mass, and not just in a digital manner, yes/no, as the yellow regions in the blue band plot. And in fact, you can see that the LEP II limit is a brick wall, while the Tevatron exclusion acts like a smooth increase in the global \chi^2 of the fit.

From the black curve in the graph you can get a lot of information. For instance, the most likely values, those that globally have a 1-sigma probability of being one day proven correct, are masses contained in the interval 114-132 GeV. At two-sigma, the Higgs mass is instead within the interval 114-152 GeV, and at three sigma, it extends into the Tevatron-excluded band a little, 114-163 GeV, with a second region allowed between 181 and 224 GeV.

In conclusion, I would like you to take away the following few points:

  • Future indirect constraints on the Higgs boson mass will only come from increased precision measurements of the W boson mass, while the top quark has exhausted its discrimination power;
  • Global SM fits show an overall very good consistency: there does not seem to be much tension between fits and experimental constraints;
  • The Higgs boson is most likely in the 114-132 GeV range (1-sigma bounds from global fits).
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