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GENEVA – The world's largest atom smasher conducted its first experiments at conditions nearing those after the Big Bang, breaking its
own record for high-energy collisions with proton beams crashing into
each other Tuesday at three times more force than ever before.
In a milestone for the $10 billion
Research, or CERN, took high-tech photographs so they could study the
disintegrating protons after they collided at a combined energy level of 7
trillion electron volts.
The collisions herald a new era for researchers working on the machine in a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel below the Swiss-French border at Geneva.
"That's it! They've had a collision," said Oliver Buchmueller from Imperial College in London as people closely watched monitors.
In a control room, scientists erupted with applause when the first successful collisions were confirmed. Their colleagues
from around the world were tuning in by remote links to witness the new
record, which surpasses the 2.36 TeV CERN recorded last year.
Dubbed the world's largest scientific experiment, researchers hope the machine can approach on a tiny scale what happened
in the first split seconds after the Big Bang, which they theorize was
the creation of the universe some 14 billion years ago.
The extra energy in Geneva is expected to reveal even more about the unanswered questions of
scientists theorize gives mass to other particles and thus to other
objects and creatures in the universe.
Tuesday's initial attempts at collisions were unsuccessful because problems developed with the beams, said scientists
working on the massive machine. That meant the protons had to be
"dumped" from the collider and new beams had to be injected.
The atmosphere at CERN was tense considering the collider's launch with great fanfare on Sept. 10, 2008. Nine days later,
the project was sidetracked when a badly soldered electrical splice
overheated, causing extensive damage to the massive magnets and other
parts of the collider some 300 feet (100 meters) below the ground.
It cost $40 million to repair and improve the machine. Since its restart in November 2009, the collider has performed
almost flawlessly and given scientists valuable data. It quickly
eclipsed the next largest accelerator — the Tevatron at Fermilab near
Two beams of protons began 10 days ago to speed at high energy in opposite directions around the tunnel, the coldest place in the
universe, at a couple of degrees above absolute zero. CERN used powerful
to force the two beams to cross, creating collisions and showers of
"Experiments are collecting their first physics data — historic moment here!" a scientist tweeted on CERN's official Twitter account.
"Nature does it all the time with higher energy) but this is the first time this is done in Laboratory!" said another tweet.(and with
When collisions become routine, the beams will be packed with hundreds of billions of protons, but the particles are so tiny that few will collide at each crossing.
The experiments will come over the objections of some people who fear they could eventually imperil Earth by creating micro black holes — subatomic
versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in
planets and other stars.
CERN and many scientists dismiss any threat to Earth or people on it, saying that any such holes would be so weak that they would vanish almost instantly without causing any damage.
Bivek Sharma, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, said the images of the first crashed proton beams were beautiful.
"It's taken us 25 years to build," he said. "This is what it's for. Finally the baby is delivered. Now it has to grow."
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