Something big is up, in subatomic terms, when staid physicists break out the Champagne and get downright giddy.

But the apparent discovery of the Higgs boson is one of those rare moments that caused physicists around the world to take their excitement from the lab into the streets.

The elementary particle, the first discovered since the top quark in 1995, is the holy grail of particle physics. It's the missing link and fundamental key of the Standard Model, the theory explaining the mechanics of the universe. That is, until two separate teams at CERN, the multinational research agency with headquarters in Geneva, announced the detection of the Higgs boson via the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider.

Scientists believe the particle is responsible for imparting mass to everything, from subatomic particles to people and, in effect, for holding the universe together. Without a Higgs field as the scaffolding of the universe, the cosmos would consist of disconnected particles bolting about at the speed of light. It is suspected of being the key to "dark matter," the mysterious and hitherto indescribable stuff that makes up most of space.

Physicists now know the particle is real, as first predicted in 1964 by theorist Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh, along with physicists Fran├žois Englert, Robert Brout, Gerald Guralnik, C. R. Hagen and Tom Kibble.

The discovery is a triumph for basic scientific research and a key to a deeper understanding of the universe.

Yet no one knows where it will lead. As Nima Arkani-Hame of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., told the New York Times: "It's a triumphant day for fundamental physics. Now some fun begins."