Are you ready for some subatomic smash-ups? Good, because the Large Hadron Collider is about ready to get serious. Everyone’s favorite long-delayed particle collider fended off rumors of its demise earlier in the month, and last week it reached a new energy record for its circulating proton beams: 3.5 trillion electron volts (TeV). That marked the highest particle energy ever accomplished by humans. A week from today, March 30, the LHC will start trying to smash those two beams together for the highest energy collisions yet.
“Just lining the beams up is a challenge in itself: it’s a bit like firing needles across the Atlantic and getting them to collide half way,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers [AFP]. So while the CERN scientists will fire up the machine and make their first attempt on March 30, they acknowledge that it could take a few hours or days to get everything set and start gathering data.
Once the results begin to flood in (and it will be a deluge of data), these collisions will start the LHC on its physics program intended to investigate the conditions directly after the Big Bang and to look for subatomic particles like the hypothetical, elusive Higgs Boson. Running at 7 TeV, the LHC should have the best chance yet of confining the Higgs mass, being 3.5 times more energetic than the Tevatron collider at Fermilab in the US, which until December was the world’s most energetic collider [Physics World].
At 7 TeV—the combination of those two 3.5 TeV beams—the LHC will reach half of its highest energy potential. CERN says it intends to run at 7 TeV for another 18 months or so before a scheduled maintenance shutdown. (This shutdown is the one that the BBC reported as an unexpected maintenance shutdown, drawing the ire of some LHC scientists). When the LHC comes back online in 2012, CERN aims to crank it up to its full power of 14 TeV.
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