The LHC is back and it is in great shape
CERN, Geneva (Switzerland), April 5th 2015 – the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) comes back to life after more than two years of maintenance and upgrade work, and it looks in great shape.
The world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, which became initially operative on September 2008, was shut down in February 2013 to modify a few elements of the original design and allow the collider to increase its energy. Last April 5th, after more than two years, the LHC finally re-opened. At 10:41 a.m. local time, the first proton beam dashed around the 27-km-long ring-shaped structure followed, at 12:27 p.m., by a second beam incoming from the opposite direction – marking the collider official restart.
In its first run after the restart, the LHC reached energies of 450 GeV (1 GeV = 109 eV), but the plan is to go well beyond that and hit 13 TeV (1 TeV = 1012 eV) in the hope of speeding up the route towards new physics (before the shut down the accelerator was running at 8 TeV). “After two years of effort, the LHC is in great shape” – said Frederick Bordry, CERN director for accelerators and technology. “But the most important step is still to come when we increase the energy of the beams to new record levels”.
In the accelerator, two proton beams travel near light speed in opposite directions and collide. At the moment of impact, various subatomic particles – including some currently unknown – are produced and can be detected. The collider was pivotal in identifying the famous Higgs boson, thought to explain how other particles get their mass. With higher ‘smashing’ energies the LHC will now hopefully be able to isolate even more exotic particles. Specifically, the hunt is open for the particles predicted by supersimmetry, which could explain many mysterious features of particle physics and would shed light on open questions such as the cosmological constant and dark matter.
With higher energies, physicists at the collider hope to recreate the conditions which existed just a few billionths of a billionth of a billionth of a second after the universe was created in the Big Bang and, perhaps, figure out why the universe is made mostly of matter rather than antimatter.
Upgrading the LHC was a ‘Herculean’ task – some 10,000 electrical interconnections between the magnets were consolidated. “The return of beams to the LHC rewards a lot of intense, hard work from many teams of people” – said Head of CERN’s Beam Department, Paul Collier. “It’s very satisfying for our operators to be back in the driver’s seat, with what’s effectively a new accelerator to bring on-stream, carefully, step by step”.
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