Monday, November 30, 2009

After Early Woes, LHC Finally Surpassed Fermilab's Tevatron

After more than a year to fix problems that arose during the first startup of the Large Hadron Collector (LHC) located along the Swiss-French border, scientists have turned the LHC up to 20% power. Even that level was sufficient to break the previous power output record held by Fermilab's Tevatron.
The early-morning test continues a recent sequence of successes that have elated scientists who were disappointed by the $10 billion machine's collapse last year during its opening in a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel under the Swiss-French border. The breakdown required extensive repairs and improvements.

The collider fired two particle beams at 1.18 trillion electron volts early Monday, surpassing the previous high of 0.98 1 TeV held by the Chicago-area Fermilab since 2001, according to the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

Physicists measure the energy of the hair's-width beams, not their speed, because the protons are already traveling close to the speed of light and cannot go much faster.

One proton at 1 TeV is about the energy of the motion of a flying mosquito. When a beam is fully packed with 300,000 billion protons with 7 TeV energy - the goal of the LHC - it is like an aircraft carrier traveling at 20 knots. That is why the scientists are carefully learning how to run it and make sure all protection systems are working, said James Gillies, spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

The power level reached Monday isn't significantly higher than Fermilab's. More significant advances are expected during the first half of next year when the LHC plans to raise each beam to 3.5 TeV in preparation for experiments create conditions like those 1 trillionth to 2 trillionths of a second after the Big Bang.
Fermilab was home to numerous discoveries in high energy physics, and the hopes for the LHC were that it would help reveal the inner workings of the atom that required higher energy levels than Tevatron could provide. Among them, physicists are looking for the Higgs bosun and other particles that comprise the atom that can only be examined by using significantly higher energy levels provided by the LHC. If discovered, they would confirm portions of the theoretical models predicting their existence.

It's expected that the LHC will be slam particles together at 7 TeV, but that will not be for several years as the LHC will run at 3.5 TeV next year but will have to be shut down ahead of a run at 7 TeV.

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