LHC Sets Record for Particle Collisions, Marks “New Territory” in Physics

Event display of a 7 TeV proton collision recorded by ATLAS. Credit: CERN

Physicists at the CERN research center collided sub-atomic particles in the Large Hadron Collider on Tuesday at the highest speeds ever achieved. “It’s a great day to be a particle physicist,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. “A lot of people have waited a long time for this moment, but their patience and dedication is starting to pay dividends.” Already, the instruments in the LHC have recorded thousands of events, and at this writing, the LHC has had more than an hour of stable and colliding beams.

This is an attempt to create mini-versions of the Big Bang that led to the birth of the universe 13.7 billion years ago, providing new insights into the nature and evolution of matter in the early Universe.
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Watch History Live from the Large Hadron Collider

Particle Collider

CERN announced that on March 30 they will attempt to circulate beams in the Large Hadron Collider at 3.5 TeV, the highest energy yet achieved in a particle accelerator. A live webcast will be shown of the event, and will include live footage from the control rooms for the LHC accelerator and all four LHC experiment, as well as a press conference after the first collisions are announced.

“With two beams at 3.5 TeV, we’re on the verge of launching the LHC physics program,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers. “But we’ve still got a lot of work to do before collisions. 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.”

The webcast will be available at a link to be announced, but the tentative schedule of events (subject to change) and more information can be found at this link.

Webcasts will also be available from the control rooms of the four LHC experiments: ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb. The webcasts will be primarily in English.

Between now and 30 March, the LHC team will be working with 3.5 TeV beams to commission the beam control systems and the systems that protect the particle detectors from stray particles. All these systems must be fully commissioned before collisions can begin.

“The LHC is not a turnkey machine,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer.“The machine is working well, but we’re still very much in a commissioning phase and we have to recognize that the first attempt to collide is precisely that. It may take hours or even days to get collisions.”

The last time CERN switched on a major new research machine, the Large Electron Positron collider, LEP, in 1989 it took three days from the first attempt to collide to the first recorded collisions.

The current Large Hadron Collider run began on 20 November 2009, with the first circulating beam at 0.45 TeV. Milestones were quick to follow, with twin circulating beams established by 23 November and a world record beam energy of 1.18 TeV being set on 30 November. By the time the LHC switched off for 2009 on 16 December, another record had been set with collisions recorded at 2.36 TeV and significant quantities of data recorded. Over the 2009 part of the run, each of the LHC’s four major experiments, ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb recorded over a million particle collisions, which were distributed smoothly for analysis around the world on the LHC computing grid. The first physics papers were soon to follow. After a short technical stop, beams were again circulating on 28 February 2010, and the first acceleration to 3.5 TeV was on 19 March.

Once 7 TeV collisions have been established, the plan is to run continuously for a period of 18-24 months, with a short technical stop at the end of 2010. This will bring enough data across all the potential discovery areas to firmly establish the LHC as the world’s foremost facility for high-energy particle physics.

Source: CERN

Large Hadron Collider Could Re-Start This Weekend

Particle Collider

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) could be re-started on this Saturday morning CERN officials said. Engineers are preparing to send a beam of sub-atomic particles around the 27km-long circular tunnel, which has been shut down since an accident in September 2008. Scientists hope to create conditions similar to those present moments after the Big Bang in search of the elusive Higgs particle to shed light on fundamental questions about the universe.

The massive “Big Bang Machine” as it’s been called is located on the French-Swiss border and is operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)

Watch an animated movie from CERN that explains how the LHC works.

1,200 superconducting magnets arranged end-to-end in the underground tunnel bend proton beams in opposite directions around the main “ring” at close to the speed of light.

At allotted points around the tunnel, the proton beams cross paths, smashing into one another. Physicists hope to see new sub-atomic particles in the debris of these collisions.

The LHC had only recently been turned when on Sept. 19, 2008 a magnet problem called a “quench” caused a ton of liquid helium to leak into the tunnel.

Liquid helium is used to cool the LHC to an operating temperature of 1.9 kelvin (-271C; -456F).

Low-energy collisions are expected a week or two after full beam. High energy collisions will take place starting in early 2010.

Source: BBC

Bread Dropped By Bird Causes Problems for LHC

Particle Collider

Yes, this headline appears to be true. A bird dropping a piece of bread onto outdoor machinery has been blamed for a technical fault at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) this week which saw significant overheating on parts of the accelerator. The LHC was not operational at the time of the incident, but the spike produced so much heat that had the beam been on, automatic safety detectors would have shut down the machine. This would put the LHC out of action for a few days while it was restarted, but there would be no repeat of the catastrophic damage suffered last September. That’s when an electrical connection in the circuit itself failed violently, causing a massive liquid-helium leak and subsequent damage along hundreds of meters of magnets.

Hmm. The idea of a time-traveling Higgs boson coming back to prevent its own discovery is seeming less and less far fetched!

Yes, this theory was recently proposed by a pair of physicists, who suggested the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make the discovery, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.

This most recent incident won’t delay the reactivation of the facility later this month, but exposes yet another vulnerability of the what might be the most complex machine ever built.

Source: PopSci

Particles Injected into Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider reached an important milestone last weekend as a beam of ions was injected into the clockwise beam pipe. This is the first time particles have been inside the collider since September, 2008 when physicists were forced to shut down the system because of a massive failure. According to a CERN press release, lead ions were placed in the clockwise beam pipe on Friday October 23, but did not travel along the whole circumference of the LHC. CERN officials still hope for a restart in 2009, with the first circulating beam likely to be injected in mid-November, and the first high energy collisions occurring around mid-December.

CERN said that later last Friday the first beam of protons followed the same route — and then on Saturday protons were sent through the LHCb detector.

They reported all settings and parameters showed a perfect functioning of the machine. In the coming weeks, physicists hope to have the first circulating beam. Then hunt for the elusive Higgs particle will recommence.

Here is an interview with CERN director general Rolf-Dieter Heuer about the switch-on of the LHC.

Sources: CERN, Physics World

God Particle

When the media talks about the “god particle”, they’re really talking about a theoretical particle in physics known as the higgs boson. If reality matches the predictions made by theoretical physics, the higgs boson is the particle that gives objects mass. It explains why objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

One of the primary goals of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is to search for the so called “god particle”. When it finally gets running, the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, will run beams of protons around a 27 kilometer circle, slamming them together at close to the speed of light. All the kinetic energy of the protons is instantly frozen out as mass in a shower of particles. Remember Einstein’s famous E=mc2 formula? Well, you can reconfigure the equation to be m = E/c2.

The higgs boson is thought to be a very heavy particle, and so it takes a lot of energy in the collider to create particles this massive. When the LHC starts running, it will collide protons at higher and higher energies, searching for the higgs boson. If it is found, it will confirm a theorized class of particles predicted by the theory of supersymmetry. And even if the higgs boson isn’t found, it will help disprove the theory. Either way, physicists win.

The term “god particle” was coined by physicist Leon Lederman, the 1988 Nobel prize winner in physics and the director of Fermilab. He even wrote a book called the “God Particle”, where he defended the use of the term.

We have written many articles about the Higgs Boson and the Large Hadron Collider here on Universe Today. Here’s an article about how the LHC won’t create a black hole and destroy the Earth. And here’s more on Fermilab’s search for the Higgs Boson.

We have also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about the higgs boson. Listen to it here, Episode 69: The Large Hadron Collider and the Search for the Higgs Boson.

Black Hole on Earth


As you are likely aware, there are numerous ways in which the Universe could kill us all, destroying the Earth and whatever signs of human life, or life in general, existed on our planet. Gamma Ray Bursts, Coronal Mass Ejections, or just the odd asteroid or comet slamming into the Earth would easily take out most of the life on our planet. But, what about black holes? Do we have to worry about them, too? Could a black hole wipe out all life on Earth, sucking us all into oblivion? It’s possible, but not very likely. And by not very likely, it’s calculated that the odds of being killed by a black hole are about one in one trillion.

First, a black hole has to get to the Earth. There are two ways of this happening. The first is that we create one ourselves, the second that a black hole wandering the galaxy happens upon our little Solar System, and meanders in towards the Sun. We’ll start with the first scenario: creating our own destruction.

How could we make our own black hole? Well, theoretically, when you slam protons together with enough force, there is the potential for the creation of a small, short-lived black hole. Particle colliders like the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, which is scheduled to start operating again in November 2009, could potentially create miniscule black holes through the collisions of protons. There were many headlines from the mainstream media about the potential of the LHC to create runaway black holes that would find their way to the center of the Earth and devour it from the inside, causing, “total destruction.” Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Even more, two people were suing to stop the LHC because of the potential hazard they thought it posed.

However, the LHC is in no way going to destroy the Earth. This is because any black holes created by the LHC will almost instantly evaporate, due to what’s called Bekenstein-Hawking radiation, which theorizes that black holes do indeed radiate energy, and therefore have a limited lifespan. A black hole with the mass of, say, a few protons, would evaporate in trillionths of a second. And even if it were to stick around, it wouldn’t be able to do much damage: it would likely pass through matter as if it didn’t exist. If you want to know whether the LHC has destroyed the Earth, go here.

Of course, there are other ways of creating black holes than the LHC, namely cosmic rays that slam into our atmosphere on a regular basis. If these are creating mini-black holes all of the time, none of them seem to be swallowing the Earth whole…yet. Other scientific experiments also aim at studying the properties of black holes right here on Earth, but the danger from these experiments is very, very minimal.

Now that we know black holes created here on Earth aren’t likely to kill us all, what about a black hole from the depths of space wandering into our neighborhood? Black holes generally come in two sizes: supermassive and stellar. Supermassive black holes reside in the hearts of galaxies, and one of these is not likely to come barrelling our way. Stellar black holes form from a dying star that, in the end, gives up its fight against gravity and implodes. The smallest black hole that can form from this process is about 12 miles across. The closest black hole to our solar system is Cygnus X-1, which is about 6,000 light years away, much too far to pose a threat by muscling it’s way into our vicinity (although there are other ways that it could potentially harm us if it were closer, like blasting us with a jet of X-rays, but that’s a whole other story). The creation process for a black hole of this variety – a supernova – could potentially sling the black hole across the galaxy, if the supernova happened in a binary pair and the explosion was asymmetric.

If a stellar black hole were to plow through the Solar System, it would be pretty ugly. The object would likely be accompanied by an accretion disk of heated, radioactive matter that would announce the presence of the black hole by frying our atmosphere with gamma and X-rays. Add to that the tidal forces of the black hole disrupting the Sun and other planets, and you have a huge mess on your hands, to say the least. It’s possible that a number of planets, and even the Sun, could be flung out of the Solar System, depending on the mass, velocity, and approach of the black hole. Yikes.

Artist's rendering of a black hole. Image Credit: NASA
Artist's rendering of a black hole. Image Credit: NASA

There lies one last possiblity for black holes to wreak their havoc on the Earth: Primordial Black Holes. These are miniature black holes theorized to have been created in the intense energies of the Big Bang (which the LHC plans to mimic on a MUCH smaller scale). Many of them most likely evaporated billions of years ago, but a black hole that started out with the mass of a mountain (10 billion tons) could potentially still be lurking around the galaxy. A hole of this size would shine at a temperature of billions of degrees from Bekenstein-Hawking radiation, and it’s likely we would see it coming due to observatories like NASA’s Swift.

From a few yards a way, the black hole’s gravity would be barely noticeable, so this kind of black hole wouldn’t have an effect on the gravity of the Solar System. At less than an inch, though, the gravity would be intense. It would suck up air as it passed through the atmosphere of the Earth, and start to make a small accretion disk. To such a tiny black hole, the Earth seems close to a vacuum, so it would probably pass right through, leaving a wake of radiation in its path and nothing more.

A black hole of this variety with a mass of the Earth, however, would be roughly the size of a peanut, and would be able to potentially swing the Moon straight into the Earth, depending, of course, on the trajectory and speed of the black hole. Yikes, again. Not only that, if it were to impact the Earth, the devastation would be total: as it entered the atmosphere, it would suck up a lot of gas and form a radioactive accretion disk. As it got closer, people and objects on the surface would be sucked up into it. Once it impacted the surface, it would start swallowing up the Earth, and probably eat its way all the way through. In this scenario, the Earth would end up being nothing more than a wispy disk of debris around the remaining black hole.

Black holes are scary and cool, and none of the scenarios depicted here are even remotely likely to happen, even if they’re fun to think about. If you want to learn more about black holes,  Hubblesite has an excellent encyclopedia, as does Stardate.org. You can also check out the rest of our section on black holes in the Guide to Space, or listen to the multiple Astronomy Cast episodes on the subject, like Episodes 18, or the questions show on Black, Black Holes. Much of the information on the likelihood and aftereffects of a black hole collision with the Earth in this article is taken from chapter 5 in Phil Plait‘s “Death from the Skies!

Sources: Discover Magazine, NASA

Will the Large Hadron Collider Destroy the Earth?

Large Hadron Collider

Question: Will the Large Hadron Collider Destroy the Earth?

Answer: No.

As you might have heard in the news recently, several people are suing to try and get the Large Hadron Collider project canceled. When it finally comes online, the LHC will be the largest, most powerful particle accelerator ever constructed.

If there’s something wrong with it, the LHC might have the power to damage itself, but it can’t do anything to the Earth, or the Universe in general.

There are two worries that people have: black holes and strange matter.

One of the goals of the Large Hadron Collider is to simulate microscopic black holes that might have been generated in the first few moments of the Big Bang. Some people are worried that these artificial black holes might get loose, and then consume the Earth from within, eventually moving on to destroy the Solar System.

The physicists are confident that any black holes they create will evaporate almost instantaneously into a shower of particles. In fact, the theories that predict that black holes can be created also predicts that black holes will evaporate. The two concepts go hand in hand.

The other worry is that the Large Hadron Collider will create a theorized material called strangelets. This “strange matter” would then be able to infect other matter, turning the entire planet into a blog of strange matter.

This strange matter is completely theoretical, and once again, the same theories that say it might be produced in the Large Hadron Collider also rule out any risks from it.

One of the most important considerations is the fact that the Moon is struck by high energy cosmic rays that dwarf the power of the Large Hadron Collider. They were likely blasted out of the environment around a supermassive black hole.

These have been raining down on the Moon for billions of years, and so far, it hasn’t turned into a black hole or strange matter.

You can read more about the Large Hadron Collider lawsuit here. Or how it might create wormholes, a view into other dimensions, or unparticles.