Large Hadron Collider smashes first atom

24th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

Scientists say two beams on Monday produced the first particle collisions in the world's biggest atom smasher.

Geneva -- Two circulating beams on Monday produced the first particle collisions in the world's biggest atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), three days after its restart, scientists announced.

In a statement, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) said two beams circulating simultaneously led to collisions at all four detection points during the afternoon and evening.

"It’s a great achievement to have come this far in so short a time," said CERN director general Rolf Heuer. "But we need to keep a sense of perspective. There's still much to do before we can start the LHC physics programme."

CERN had declared earlier Monday the relaunch of the EUR 3.9 billion (CHF 5.9 billion, USD 5 billion) collider "an enormous success," after it was out of action for 14 months due to a serious electrical fault.

Scientists are looking to the collider -- inside a 27-kilometre (16.8-mile) tunnel on the Franco-Swiss border -- to mimic the conditions that followed the Big Bang and help explain the origins of the universe.

"Today the LHC circulated two beams simultaneously for the first time, allowing the operators to test the synchronisation of the beams and giving the experiments their first chance to look for proton-proton collisions," CERN said in its statement.

"With just one bunch of particles circulating in each direction, the beams can be made to cross in up to two places in the ring," it explained.

The first collision was picked up at 14:44 CET by the Atlas detector, beneath the Swiss town of Meyrin, one of several laid out along the route of the world's most powerful physics experiment.

Smash-ups then followed at the three other detectors, known as CMS, Alice and LHCb.

"It was standing room only in the Alice control room and cheers erupted with the first collisions," said Alice spokesperson Jurgen Schukraft. "This is simply tremendous."

"The tracks we're seeing are beautiful," added LHCb spokesperson Andrei Golutvin, quoted in the CERN statement. "We're all ready for serious data taking in a few days time."

Earlier in the day, scientists injected the first sub-atomic particles back into the collider, and then got particle beams circulating within the accelerator.

The LHC has an operating life of up to 15 years, and the collisions that it produces should generate masses of data that could provide information about the creation of the universe and the fundamental nature of matter.

Scientists want to get the collider running at 1.2 teraelectronvolts or 1.2 trillion electron volts by the end of 2009 -- with one teraelectronvolt equal to the energy of a flying mosquito, said a CERN spokeswoman.

That would match the maximum output of what now is the largest functioning collider in the world, at the Fermilab near Chicago in the United States.

By 2010, however, the LHC should be ramped up to 3.5 teraelectronvolts, reaching "close to five" teraelectronvolts in the second half of the year. Maximum power is 7.0 teraelectronvolts.

"Already with 3.5 TeV, we can open new windows into physics. That can already happen next year," said Heuer earlier Monday, refraining from predicting how soon data could be generated.

The LHC took nearly 20 years to construct and aims to resolve physics mysteries such as an explanation for "dark matter" and "dark energy" that account for 96 percent of the cosmos and whether other dimensions exist parallel to our own.

The ultimate goal would be finding a theorised component called the Higgs boson, which would explain how particles acquire mass. The elusive Higgs has been called the "God particle".

AFP / Expatica

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