It's been plagued by everything from liquid helium leaks to wayward baguettes, but the mega-physics experiment known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is finally ready to start smashing protons into each other. Particle collisions could begin in two weeks.
The LHC is a 27-kilometer underground tunnel designed to accelerate atomic particles and smash them into each other. The goal is to see what happens when such particles interact with tremendous amounts of energy, the way they might under extreme conditions in outer space. The results of LHC experiments will reveal a lot about the origins of our universe, and the composition of matter within it.
CERN, the Swiss facility where the enormous underground experiment is located, has announced that test beams in the LHC have zoomed around most parts of the accelerator without incident:
Particles are smoothly making their way around the 27 km circumference of the LHC. Last weekend (7-8 November), the first bunches of injection energy protons completed their journey (anti-clockwise) through three octants of the LHC's circumference and were dumped in a collimator just before entering the CMS cavern. The particles produced by the impact of the protons on the tertiary collimators (used to stop the beam) left their tracks in the calorimeters and the muon chambers of the experiment.
One of the coolest parts about accelerators is that when the microscopic particles smash into the walls, they are moving so fast that they leave long tracks in their wakes. (Researchers can gain information from examining these tracks.)
If everything keeps moving smoothly, we could see some particle-on-particle smashage as early as two weeks from now. As long as the world doesn't end, we're going to get some long-awaited answers to our questions about our universe.
via CERN Bulletin