After a false start this morning, the Large Hadron Collider finally started doing what it was designed to do:
PASADENA, Calif. — After 16 years and $10 billion — and a long morning of electrical groaning and sweating — there was joy in the meadows and tunnels of the Swiss-French countryside Tuesday: the world’s biggest physics machine, the Large Hadron Collider, finally began to collide subatomic particles.
Following two false starts due to electrical failures, protons whipped to more than 99 percent of the speed of light and to record-high energy levels of 3.5 trillion electron volts apiece raced around a 17-mile underground magnetic track outside of Geneva a little after 1 p.m. local time. They crashed together inside apartment-building sized detectors designed to capture every evanescent flash and fragment from microscopic fireballs thought to hold insights into the beginning of the universe.
The soundless blooming of proton explosions was accompanied by the hoots and applause of scientists crowded into control rooms at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which built the collider. The relief spread to bleary gatherings of particle physicists all around the world, who have collectively staked the future of their profession on the idea that the collider will eventually reveal new secrets of the universe.
Among their top goals are finding the identity of the dark matter that shapes the visible cosmos and the strange particle known as the “Higgs,” which is thought to imbue other particles with mass. Until now, these have been tantalizingly out of reach.
“We’re expecting some answers,” said David Politzer, a Nobel laureate at the California Institute of Technology, where refreshments in a conference room overflowing with Los Angeles-area physicists attending a midnight remote viewing included matzos, chips and pizza.
For all the jokes that have been told about the destruction of the universe, and time travel and paradoxes over the past year and a half, we stand to learn things from the LHC that we’ve only speculated about before.