European Organization for Nuclear Research’s (CERN) Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which began circulating proton beams for the first time in two years on Sunday, has now successfully accelerated a beam at the record energy of 6.5 teraelectronvolts (TeV), which is the target for this year’s operations. In a statement released Friday, CERN said that the beam was gradually accelerated to 6.5 TeV from its “injection energy” of 450 gigaelectronvolts late on Thursday.
“Beams at injection energy are a useful way of checking that all is running as it should,” LHC operator Ronaldus SuykerBuyk said earlier on Thursday. “For example, we use these low-intensity beams to make sure that our beam-diagnostic equipment is working properly and is well calibrated.”
Now that the scientists have been successful in circulating a proton beam at a record energy, the next step would be to deliver collisions at a total energy of 13 TeV -- much higher than the 8 TeV collisions of 2012, which led to the discovery of the Higgs boson. However, this process would not begin for at least several weeks.
“For now the team is taking a softly, softly approach, planning on injecting only three bunches of protons at nominal intensity for the first collision attempts,” CERN said in a statement released Thursday. “The team will spend most of the time from now until collisions checking and rechecking a whole wealth of subsystems on the LHC.”
The LHC, which consists of a nearly 17-mile ring of superconducting magnets lying 300 feet beneath the border between France and Switzerland, functions by accelerating beams of protons and ions to near the speed of light. Collisions between these beams are then recorded at four interaction points to detect the presence of hitherto unknown subatomic particles.
Given that the latest round of collisions would be carried out at energies never before achieved, physicists at CERN hope that the detection and subsequent study of new particles could provide answers to some of the most fundamental questions of the universe, such as why there is an abundance of matter and lack of antimatter in the universe, and the make-up of the mysterious “dark matter” and “dark energy,” which together constitute nearly 95 percent of the cosmos.