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What does a Higgs boson *do*?

Excuse my ignorance in this area, I am a palaeontologist, not a physicist.  But ... what does a Higgs boson, assuming they exist, actually do?  What I mean is, what effect does it have that observe and that makes us think it's out there at all, even for the staggeringly short amounts of time that it exists?  So, for example, we can infer the existence of gluons from the binding effect they have on quarks (is that right?) but what effect does do Higgs bosons have that make us confident enough in their existence to even think they're worth looking for?  And since they decay so quickly, how can they have that effect for long enough for us to have noticed?  And where do they come from in order to be able to exert that effect for the tiny amount of time before they decay?

Sorry if these are stupid questions, but I feel a bit lost in this whole area.

-- Mike Taylor (I don't seem to be able to log in to post a comment as myself).




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