GENEVA Scientists at the CERN research center say their "Big Bang" project is going beyond all expectations and the first proof of the existence of dimensions beyond the known four could emerge next year.
In surveys of results of nearly 8 months of experiments in their Large Hadron Collider (LHC), they also say they may be able to determine by the end of 2011 whether the mystery Higgs particle, or boson, exists.
Guido Tonelli, spokesman for one of the CERN specialist teams monitoring operations in the vast, subterranean LHC, said probing for extra dimensions -- besides length, breadth, height and time -- would become easier as the energy of the proton collisions in it is increased in 2011.
Other CERN physicists say the success so far of the world's largest scientific project suggests that some great enigmas of the universe they have in their sights could be at least partly resolved much sooner than they thought.
"One year ago, it would have been impossible for us to guess that the machine and the experiments could achieve so much so quickly," said Fabiola Gionotti, spokeswoman for another research team in the surveys, issued on CERN's website (www.cern.org).
RESULTS ALL THE TIME
"We are producing new results all the time," she added. The existence or otherwise of the Higgs, never yet spotted but believed to provide the glue giving mass to matter, should be settled one way or another by the end of next year.
The $10 billion LHC, whose operation and monitoring involves scientists and research centers in 34 countries, went into full operation on March 31, smashing protons together at near the speed of light with increasing energy.
These collisions have been creating millions of simulations of the Big Bang which 13.7 billion years ago brought into existence the primordial universe from which stars, planets and life on earth -- and perhaps elsewhere -- eventually emerged.
The LHC operations have been so trouble-free that at the start of this month CERN scientists were able to switch to colliding lead ions, creating temperatures a million times hotter than at the heart of the Sun.
The ion collisions, creating an amalgam dubbed a quark-gluon plasma, give the research teams another way of looking at what happened within a nano-second of the Big Bang and at the first matter produced by that mighty explosion.
CERN scientists say they have already taken research with ions further than those with gold at the long-established Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the U.S. Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.
These experiments have shown the power of the link-up of 140 computing centers around the world known as the Grid which processes the vast amounts of information that ion collisions produce.
On December 6, the LHC will be shut down for servicing and to avoid draining electricity in the depths of winter from the energy networks of France and Switzerland along whose border CERN lies.
It will start up again in February, then run at full blast, with protons, until the end of the year, when it will close down again until 2013 while engineers prepare it for running at double the energy to the end of the decade and beyond.
(Editing by Jonathan Lynn)