LHC to unlock universe secrets
Geneva - Scientists at the world's biggest atom smasher said on Thursday they were stepping up their efforts to recreate the Big Bang that formed the universe, after breaking new ground ahead of schedule.
"The experiments are already providing an exciting glimpse of the new frontier," said Sergio Bertolucci, director for research and computing at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern).
Lead ions, which are heavier than the protons used for collision over the past seven months, will be accelerated in the machine for the first time, opening up an entirely new avenue of exploration, according to Cern.
They will probe matter "as it would have been in the first instants of the Universe's existence," it added.
The 27km circular particle accelerator buried under the French-Swiss border has been recreating powerful but microscopic bursts of energy that mimic conditions close to the Big Bang.
Cern said it brought the record-breaking run of proton collisions in the giant €3.9bn ($5.2bn) Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to a successful conclusion on Thursday.
"For the rest of the year the LHC is moving to a different phase of operation," with the lead ion collisions, before a technical shut down for servicing on December 6.
The collider set record energy levels by smashing protons fired in beams approaching the speed of light in March. On October 13, it reached a target collision rate two weeks ahead of schedule, and has since doubled that.
"This shows that the objective we set ourselves for this year was realistic, but tough, and it’s very gratifying to see it achieved in such fine style," said Cern Director General Rolf Heuer.
In late September, physicists at Cern said they appeared to have discovered a previously unobserved phenomenon in their quest to unravel the deepest secrets of the universe.
Their observations of particles that were "intimately linked in a way not seen before in proton collisions", were submitted for scientific peer review.
The new phase will also bring another challenge by generating even greater amounts of data for the worldwide computing grid that backs up the experiment.
It combines the computing power of more than 140 independent computer centres in 34 countries, with data transferred at peaks of 10 gigabytes per second, the equivalent of two DVDs a second.