The world’s largest and most costly physics experiment took another step toward a birth of its own last week 300 feet below ground outside Geneva. Scientists and engineers at CERN fired the first test beam of protons into the lab’s Large Hadron Collider and sent them successfully part way around the accelerator's 17-mile racetrack.
That's a few million protons coming at you in the initial kick-off test image captured by the collider’s “beam television,” a few yards into the collider from the beam injection point lastFriday evening.
Protons were injected into the main LHC ring and they traveled several meters before (presumably) crashing into a deliberate beam dump. This was a test in which the beam was injected into one sector only (Sector 1-2, near ATLAS— the ring is divided into eight sectors).
The blob in the Beam TV image is the not-very-well-centered beam, which is spattering through an alumina ceramic screen which lights up due to the radiation, and the image is captured by a CCD camera. This configuration is only used for tests only. Protons were injected into the LHC (clockwise/Beam 1) yesterday at about 6:30 PM, CET. The injection kicker fired and the beam appeared on the TDI (internal target)–this is a few meters into the LHC. The LHC team is now working on the kicker that needs to fire to keep the beam in the ring.
After the “television” camera was removed, the protons made it all the way to their destination, passing through Alice, one of the giant detectors built to observed proton collisions. The New York Times reported that a Web site summary of the evening’s activities ended with the word “beer.”
Physicists hope to start running protons around the entire ring on Sept. 10 and build up to smashing them together at energies of five trillion electron volts apiece in the month or two after that.
But the only data CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has produced
thus far is a thoroughly debunked urban myth—that the particle
accelerator buried under the Swiss-French border will create an
apocalyptic black hole.
On September 10th, researchers will activate particle beams within the 17-mile-long ring, and the world’s most powerful particle accelerator will begin collecting experimental data. The LHC’s research potential is staggering, with physicists hoping to use the accelerator’s extremely high-energy proton collisions to generate a range of theoretical particles. Some of those particles could help us to understand the nature of mass, including the as-yet-undetectable dark matter that accounts for so much of the universe’s mass. Other particles might prove the existence of extra dimensions, or lead to entirely new theories or physical laws
The accelerator ring might be the pinnacle of human research into the microscopic unknown, but its activation is only the beginning of the search, not the end. Once started it will be a source of staggering amounts of data - it turns out that when you have a 23-km installation and sensors that can detect things right down to the proton scale, you get over two hundred megabytes a second out of the thing. After billions of dollars of building, they'll look pretty silly if the run out of storage space.
Instead, the data load will be spread over hundreds of participating facilities around the globe, filtered and organized by multiple tiers of routing centers. If the much-heralded Higgs is found, it won't be by a white-coated scientist hunkered in a high-tech Genevan cavern madly scribbling on a whiteboard. A computer in Nowhere, Someplace will match about fourteen pages of random-looking numbers to a preset condition then throw up a flag. A graduate student will spot that flag in the morning, run the simulation again, then tell his boss, who will tell him to check it three more times. He'll call his collaborators, and the news will spread all the way up the chain in a vast (but extremely dignified) academic version of fist-pumping and going "Yes!"
Will the efforts of the world find the Higgs boson, or will scientists who should know better succumb to the temptation of hosting the largest game of Counter Strike ever seen? We'll have to wait and see.
Posted by Casey Kazan with Luke McKinney.
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