A little more than a year after its ill-fated debut, the Large Hadron Collider is getting ready to roll again. The controversial device, including an 18-mile circular tunnel—bigger than the London Underground’s Circle Line—is housed in the gigantic CERN laboratory in the Jura mountains just outside of Geneva, on the border of France and Switzerland. Using the particle collider, the largest ever built, would allow scientists to re-create conditions that existed a trillionth of a second after the big bang, as well as prove the existence of the spooky “Higgs boson” entity, also called the “God Particle” which give “things” (including living things like you and me) their mass. It is further anticipated to solve the mystery of “dark matter” and shed light on many other quirky physics conundrums.
On Sept. 19, 2008, just days after the Hadron’s launch, a small piece of electrical cable providing power to the magnets broke loose, sending a shower of sparks across the wiring. This caused temperatures within one of the tunnels to rise quickly, followed by the release of helium cooled to -271 degrees. The results weren’t pretty, causing nearly $60 million in damage to the $9-billion project. Now, with hope, everything is back on track. Within the next few weeks, bunches of protons should be loaded into the device, and it’s expected to be operational near the Christmas holiday. Fully up to speed, the particles should move just a hair slower than the speed of light.
Not everyone is happy about the Hadron’s snappy comeback. Some scientists fear the experiment could cause several tiny black holes to form, which would grow and devour the entire Earth. Still others, like Dr. Holger Bech Neilson of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen believe that the manufacture of Higgs bosons may be so “abhorrent” to nature,” as Dennis Overbye wrote in the New York Times, that their creation would cause ripples backward through time to stop the collider before it could produce one, much like the paradox of a time traveler going back in time to halt his own birth by killing his grandfather. Neilson calls the collider’s problems an “anti-miracle” and adds, tongue-not-entirely-in-cheek, that the collider’s epic failure in 2008 might actually have proved the existence of God. Got your head around that one?
What is even scarier about the Large Hadron Collider, however, is that one of the CERN physicists working on the project (his name has not been released) was arrested Oct. 12 on suspicion of having Al Qaeda connections. Gulp!
Cross posting this from Brand X
Posted by Richard Metzger |