CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) set a new record by smashing atoms with vastly more energy than ever before.
The LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, and the largest single machine in the world.
During its latest trials on Wednesday night, two opposing beams of protons were steered into each other at the four collision points spaced around the LHC’s tunnel.
The energy of the collisions was 13 trillion electronvolts – dwarfing the 8 trillion reached during the LHC’s first run, which ended in early 2013.
For now, however, the collisions are part of the gradual testing process designed to ensure nothing is missed an nothing goes awry when the LHC goes into that full “collision factory” mode.
“We begin by bringing the beams into collision at 13 TeV (teraelectronvolts), and adjusting their orbits to collide them head-on,” said Ronaldus Suykerbuyk from the operations team at CERN – the organization based near Geneva in Switzerland that runs the LHC.
The huge collider has been through a planned two-year refit, after the conclusion of its first run – which in 2012 produced the first solid evidence for the famous Higgs boson.
Physicists are excited to see the machine winding back up again, although it is an overwhelmingly incremental process.
In early April, after a slight delay, twin proton beams circulated the LHC’s 27km ring, 30 storeys below the Swiss-French border, for the first time in two years. This was at a much lower, preliminary energy; five days later the energy reached 6.5 TeV per beam for the first time.
The first collisions followed in early May – again, at a lower, safer energy to begin with. Thursday’s collisions are in new territory.
Particle accelerator Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has turned off its particle beams ahead of a shut-down period that will last two years.
The LHC is best known for its role in spotting the Higgs boson in late 2012.
But following technical faults shortly after it first switched on, the machine has never been run at the full energies for which it was designed.
A programme of repairs and upgrades should allow that in late 2014.
The LHC’s beams were “dumped” early on Thursday morning, but it will take until Saturday morning for the machine’s 1,734 magnets to warm up to room temperature.
Then an unprecedented period of upgrade and repair – dubbed “Long Shutdown 1” – will begin.
The machine ran at particle energies of 8 trillion electron-volts (TeV) in 2012, up from the prior high point of 7TeV in 2011. But when the shutdown concludes, slated for the end of November 2014, it should be set to run at 13TeV – far and away the highest-energy collisions ever attempted by scientists.
The LHC is best known for its role in spotting the Higgs boson in late 2012
The major work required is to upgrade the connections between the magnets, such that they can handle the enormous electrical currents that may pass through them at higher particle energies and in the event of faults such as the one in 2008.
But the shutdown maintenance schedule also includes upgrades to all four of the LHC’s detectors, the shielding of electronics – even the ventilation system of the 27 km-long tunnel that houses the main accelerator ring.
The shutdown is due to conclude in late November 2014, after which the system will be put through its paces and experiments are expected to resume in February or March 2015.