GENEVA Physicists probing the origins of the cosmos hope that next year they will turn up the first proofs of the existence of concepts long dear to science-fiction writers such as hidden worlds and extra dimensions.
And as their Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN near Geneva moves into high gear, they are talking increasingly of the "New Physics" on the horizon that could totally change current views of the universe and how it works.
"Parallel universes, unknown forms of matter, extra dimensions... These are not the stuff of cheap science fiction but very concrete physics theories that scientists are trying to confirm with the LHC and other experiments."
This was how the "ideas" men and women in the international research center's Theory Group, which mulls over what could be out there beyond the reach of any telescope, put it in CERN's staff-targeted Bulletin this month.
As particles are collided in the vast underground LHC complex at increasingly high energies, what the Bulletin article referred to informally as the "universe's extra bits" -- if they do exist as predicted -- should be brought into computerized, if ephemeral, view, the theorists say.
Optimism among the hundreds of scientists working at CERN -- in the foothills of the Jura mountains along the border of France and Switzerland -- has grown as the initially troubled $10 billion experiment hit its targets this year.
By mid-October, Director-General Rolf Heuer told staff last weekend, protons were being collided along the 27-km (16.8 mile) subterranean ring at the rate of 5 million a second -- two weeks earlier than the target date for that total.
By next year, collisions will be occurring -- if all continues to go well -- at a rate producing what physicists call one "inverse femtobarn," best described as a colossal amount, of information for analysts to ponder.
The head-on collisions, at all but the speed of light, recreate what happened a tiny fraction of a second after the primeval "Big Bang" 13.7 billion years ago which brought the known universe and everything in it into being.
Despite centuries of increasingly sophisticated observation from planet Earth, only 4 per cent of that universe is known -- because the rest is made up of what have been called, because they are invisible, dark matter and dark energy
Billions of particles flying off from each LHC collision are tracked at four CERN detectors -- and then in collaborating laboratories around the globe -- to establish when and how they come together and what shapes they take.
The CERN theoreticians say this could give clear signs of dimensions beyond length, breadth, depth and time because at such high energy particles could be tracked disappearing -- presumably into them -- and then back into the classical four.
Parallel universes could also be hidden within these dimensions, the thinking goes, but only in a so-called gravitational variety in which light cannot be propagated -- a fact which would make it nearly impossible to explore them.
(Editing by Jonathan Lynn)