Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Super and Spectacular-ness

Particle physicists have fired up the world's biggest atom-smasher in a mission to answer some of the most perplexing questions about the nature of the Universe.

Built in a tunnel 100 metres below ground in a complex straddling the French-Swiss border, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is designed to accelerate sub-atomic particles to nearly the speed of light and then smash them together.

The collisions will briefly stoke temperatures 100,000 times hotter than the sun, fleetingly replicating conditions which prevailed in split-seconds after the "Big Bang" that created the universe 13.7 billion years ago.

In this seething primordial soup, novel particles may lurk.

Discovering them could resolve mysteries clouding our understanding of how matter is constituted and came into being, scientists say.

"It's about acquiring knowledge for humanity about the behaviour of fundamental matter," physicist Daniel Denegri told AFP.

"We expect to make discoveries that could be rather spectacular."

Shortly after 9.30am Wednesday (1730 AEST), the first protons were injected into the 27km ring-shaped tunnel at the headquarters of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).

It has required nearly two decades, six billion Swiss francs ($A6.64 billion) and 5,000 scientists, engineers and technicians from nearly three dozen countries to bring the LHC to fruition.

Wednesday's operation began a long and cautious commissioning process, testing equipment and procedures, before starting experiments a matter of weeks from now.


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