LHC: Let the collisions begin

11 Feb 2009

It may be a little later than the expected springtime relaunch, but after an electrical glitch on 19 September 2008, scientists at the CERN facility now say that the largest particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), will be restarted at the end of September 2009.

What this means is that high-energy particle beams will be circulated in a vacuum around the 17-mile long ring containing 53 magnets – some of which will not be ready for testing until September.

By late October, we should be seeing particle collisions – data will be collected and hopefully the results announced in 2010.

CERN has called the schedule “tight but realistic”: “It is cautious, ensuring that all the necessary work is done on the LHC before we start up, yet it allows physics research to begin this year,” said CERN director, General Rolf Heuer.

What is predicted is that these colliding protons will result in the creation of the Higgs boson, the last piece in the puzzle, as it were, that will satisfy the Standard Model.

The Standard Model is a theory that currently explains three of the four forces that determine the behaviour of matter and energy in the universe, or the nature of reality, really.

If the Higgs boson (or God particle as some like to call it) pops into existence, then we have proof that massless elementary particles cause mass – in other words, proof of dark matter, the other 96pc of the universe that has been niggling scientists for quite some time (and would explain a hell of a lot about why the universe apparently weighs so little yet takes up so much space).

As for fears of a Doomsday event, CERN scientists say that the possibility of the Higgs boson creating micro black holes that grow exponentially and swallow up the universe is pretty much impossible. These micro black holes only have a tiny chance of being created, and even if they are, they would most likely pop out of existence just as quickly.

Pictured: scientists hard at work on an LHC magnet

By Marie Boran