Here is one of the Large Hadron Collider's huge particle detectors located 300 feet underground near the Swiss border with France.
At 3:30 Wednesday morning, Eastern time, some 300 feet under the ground near Geneva, scientists will send the first protons through the 17-mile-long Large Hadron Collider, or LHC.
It’s as spellbinding as any science fiction novel, because nobody knows for absolute certain what will happen.
Thousands of physicists from around the world have been involved for 14 years in building the $8 billion LHC. Come Wednesday we might learn a lot about what happened in the first moments of our universe. We might learn a lot about the mysterious dark matter that scientists believe permeates the cosmos. We might see first-hand the emergence of a new particle called the Higgs boson.
Or things might get really ugly.
Critics of the LHC say the blast of protons could create a black hole and accidentally destroy Earth or the entire universe. As recently as last week, the director general of CERN was still rebutting the critics. “The LHC is safe and any suggestion that it might present a risk is pure fiction,” he said.
But even if the world’s top physicists have screwed up in a major way, the critics’ worst fears won’t materialize Wednesday because the day’s protons will only be circulating through the collider, not actually colliding.
The LHC is designed to accelerate protons to energies of seven trillion electron volts — seven times the energy of the next largest machine in the world, Fermilab’s Tevatron — and smash them together. It will eventually reach temperatures and energies equivalent to those at a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.
The first collisions won’t happen for a month or two. It’ll take that long to reach the five trillion electron volts of energy needed for the anticipated collision of protons.
Click here for the New York Times article with some interesting links.
Click here for an interesting astrological reading on the LHC at AstroTableTalk.