The world’s most powerful particle accelerator is back, and it’s better than ever. After being shut for two years of planned repairs and maintenance, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is smashing particles together at a record breaking 13 tera-electronvolts, almost double the energy it was using in 2013.
Recently, the LHC has broken another record, smashing together lead-ions 1045 trillion-volts, two times higher than any previous experiment of this type. It is hoped that this will allow scientists to examine a state of matter that they believe existed just after the Big Bang.
Researchers at CERN hope this vastly improved energy output will allow more intricate studies of the Higgs boson – a particle that could explain why matter has mass – which was famously discovered in 2012. The increased energy should mean that Higgs boson particles are generated more frequently (it should be able to generate ten times as many as during the LHC’s first run), helping researchers measure them more accurately and probe their rare decays. Furthermore, researchers hope that a more powerful LHC will be able to safely conduct more extreme experiments, which scientists believe will better simulate the conditions of the early universe.
In July 2015, the LHC’s latest discovery was made: the pentaquark. This not only represented a brand new particle, but also gave researchers a way to group together quarks (the constituent particles of protons and neutrons) in a brand new pattern. This in turn could help us understand how these subatomic particles are formed. Physicists have also set their sights on finding dark matter, which is known to make up around 85 per cent of all matter in the universe but whose nature is unknown. The only reason we know it exists is due to its gravitational effects, holding the universe together. Scientists have theories about the characteristics of the particles required for dark matter, but it may be that they uncover something else entirely. This is what makes the LHC experiments so exciting; no one really knows what it will find between now and 2018, when the next set of upgrades have been scheduled.
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