The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) will soon go back online, starting its second three-year long run of experiments.
The LHC is the largest particle accelerator in the world, stretching nearly 17 miles in diameter. The entire subterranean instrument has already been cooled to its operating temperature, just a few degrees Fahrenheit above absolute zero.
The collider is scheduled to start up again in March 2015, conducting experiments at higher energies than was possible prior to recent upgrades. One of the goals of building the LHC was to find the elusive Higgs boson, which physicists theorize gives mass to matter.
Physicists determined that by measuring the energy of the boson, if it were found, would provide evidence which of two great models of the Universe was correct. Researchers at CERN detected a particle which resembled the Higgs, but the energy detected did not match either theory. In order to clarify their findings, researchers needed to shut down the collider, in order to upgrade the system, in order to create, and record, more powerful collisions between particles.
"With this new energy level, the LHC will open new horizons for physics and for future discoveries. I'm looking forward to seeing what nature has in store for us," Rolf Heuer, director general of CERN, said.
The first sector of the LHC - one eighth of the total instrument, has been brought up to operating levels for the first time, in preparation for the restart. In its second run, investigators will run experiments at twice the energy utilized during the first phase of experiments there. The new generation of experiments could help answer great questions in physics, including the nature of dark matter and dark energy, which make up the vast majority of the mass of the Universe.
The massive collider is located near Geneva, Switzerland, near that nation's border with France.
When the LHC first came online, many critics believed the massive particle accelerator would destroy the Earth, if not the Universe, through its high-energy experiments. Even famed physicist Stephen Hawking believes the Universe may be wiped out, one day, by a vacuum bubble created by Higgs bosons, although the process could take 10 to the 100 (one followed by 100 zeros) years.
"After the huge amount of work done over the last two years, the LHC is almost like a new machine. Restarting this extraordinary accelerator is far from routine. Nevertheless, I'm confident that we will be on schedule to provide collisions to the LHC experiments by May 2015," Frédérick Bordry, CERN's Director for Accelerators and Technology, stated in a press release.