March 29, 2010 / 3:27 PM / 9 years ago

Scientists seek dark matter in "Big Bang" project

GENEVA (Reuters) - Scientists at the CERN research center will begin trying on Tuesday to make particles collide at ultra-high power and close to the speed of light to create mini-versions of the “Big Bang” that gave birth to the universe.

A scientist looks at computer screens at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) control center of the CERN in Geneva September 3, 2008. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

“We are opening the door to New Physics, to a new period of discovery in the history of humankind,” said Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director-general of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva.

Early on Tuesday, particle beams will start circulating in opposite directions around the 27-km (16.8 mile) oval tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider, the LHC, at an energy of 3.5 Tera — 3.5 billion billion — electron volts, or TeV.

When particles smash into each other, each collision will create an explosion that will enable thousands of scientists linked to the project around the world to track and analyze just what happened a nano-fraction of time after the real Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago.

The scientists hope their giant experiment will throw light on key mysteries of the cosmos like the origin of the stars and planets and what is dark matter.

Over the years, especially from 2013 when beam energy is raised to 7 TeV and an impact power of 14 TeV, the underground LHC is set to see many billions of collisions providing vast amounts of data about the primordial blast and what came after.

But it may well be hours or even days before the first collisions happen in the world’s biggest scientific experiment.


“Just lining the beams up is a challenge in itself; it’s a bit like firing needles across the Atlantic and getting them to hit head-on half way,” said Steve Myers, CERN’s director for accelerators and technology.

The vast amount of information the collisions will produce will have to be processed, with findings checked and rechecked, which means it could be months or even years before CERN can firmly announce discoveries.

Physicists are focusing on identifying the Higgs boson — the particle named after Scottish professor Peter Higgs, who over 3 decades ago suggested something like it made possible the conversion of the matter created by the Big Bang into mass.

Earlier bids have failed to find the boson — whose presence would have turned the blast’s gaseous debris into galaxies and their stars and planets and made possible the eventual emergence of life on Earth and perhaps elsewhere in the cosmos.

CERN scientists also hope to find concrete evidence of the dark, or invisible, matter that is believed to make up some 25 percent of the universe, of which only 5 percent of the total reflects light and can therefore be seen.

They also hope that, further down the road in the 20 years of the projected life of the LHC, real proof of the existence of dark energy, which accounts for the remaining 70 percent of the stuff of the cosmos, will emerge.

But it could also tap into science fiction, and the predictions of many cosmologists, about the existence of other, parallel, universes, of further dimensions beyond the five known to exist, and about what was before the Big Bang.

Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Tim Pearce

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