Back In Action: Super Collider May Have Smashed First Atoms

Physicists the world over are eagerly waiting for the world’s new highest-energy atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, to blast some particles together, and that may have already happened. Over the weekend, physicists succeeded in passing protons all the way around the Large Hadron Collider, officials at the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, near Geneva, announced today.

In fact, physicists passed protons through both of the LHC’s counter-circulating rings at the same time and may have smashed a few protons inadvertently, says CERN spokesperson, James Gillies. “They had two beams in the machine and they were crossing each other, so they may have had collisions already,” he says.

To be sure, physicists will comb through data from the four giant particle detectors space around the ring, in which the beams’ paths cross. CERN accelerator physicists next aim to increase the intensity of the beams, perhaps ramp up their energy just a bit from its current low “injection” level, and steer them into each other to start making collisions in earnest, Gillies says. The goal remains to start producing enough collisions by Christmas to allow physicists working with the particle detectors to calibrate them.