April 7, 2010 / 2:35 PM / 9 years ago

CERN creates 10 million mini-Big Bangs in one week

GENEVA (Reuters) - Physicists at the CERN research center said on Wednesday they had created 10 million mini-Big Bangs in the first week of mega-power operations of their marathon probe into the secrets of the cosmos.

A computer-generated image of a particle-smashing event released by CERN on March 30, 2010. REUTERS/Handout

Spokesman James Gillies said the subterranean Large Hadron Collider (LHC), in which tiny particles of matter are smashed together at a fraction of a second under the speed of light, was functioning extremely well.

“It’s all looking pretty good. We are getting a mass of data for the analysts in laboratories all round the world to get their teeth into, even if it could take months or years for anything really new to emerge,” said Gillies.

Officials at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, are keen to get through the first two weeks at high power, recalling that in 2008, an earlier launch of the LHC at a lesser power was halted by a major coolant leak after 10 days.

Scientists keeping watch over the LHC’s 27-km oval-shaped ring under the Swiss-French border near Geneva said collisions were now being recorded at 100 per second, twice as many as on the first mega-power day last week.

Particle beams were first injected into the LHC and then collided at a previously unattained total energy of 7 tera — or 7 million million — electron volts (TeV) on March 30 in what scientists said was a huge step forward in cosmic research.


The collisions create simulations on a tiny scale of the Big Bang, the primeval fireball 13.7 billion years ago out of which the entire cosmos — galaxies, stars, planets and eventually life as well as the universal laws of physics — emerged.

By tracking how the particles behave after colliding, CERN researchers hope to unveil secrets of the cosmos such as the make-up of dark, or invisible, matter, why matter gained mass, and if there are more dimensions to the four already known.

There could also be clues, but not before the middle of the decade after collision impact energy is doubled to 14 TeV in 2013, on whether ideas even more reminiscent of science fiction like parallel universes have any basis in reality.

This, like the additional dimensions proposition, figures marginally in the postulates of string theory — which suggests the basic ingredients of the cosmos are tiny strings of matter — over which scientists have argued for some years.

The theory also proposes the idea of supersymmetry, under which every particle has a massive unseen or shadow particle — a phenomenon that could explain why dark matter makes up nearly 25 percent of the universe while visible matter accounts for around only 5 per cent.

Proponents say string physics, if shown to be correct, could provide the long-sought “general theory of everything” which would resolve contradictions between modern quantum theory and Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

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