December 3, 2010

CERN Directors Could Extend “˜Big Bang’ Project

Directors of the CERN research center said that new data on the origins of the universe is pouring in so quickly that physicists may extend the current opening phase of their "Big Bang" project to the end of 2012.

An extension could lead to an early discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, which is believed to have turned an amorphous mass of particles into solid matter at the birth of the universe.

"There is a big window for new discoveries opening up and we want to ensure the momentum of these past few months is maintained," CERN Director General Rolf Heuer, who overseas the centre's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiments, told reporters.

"We have confirmed this year all that we thought we knew about the physical universe, and now we are moving into new territory," his deputy, Research Director Sergio Bertolucci, added. "We are looking toward the known unknowns and also things we may not even have thought about."

Heuer and Bertolucci spoke as CERN engineers started to close down the giant, subterranean LHC and its huge detector magnets until next February for winter fine-tuning.

CERN experts reported on Thursday the recreation of a super-hot "quark-gluon plasma" believed to have been the totality of the cosmos a fraction of a second after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.

CERN researchers will resume colliding particles at impact energies of up to 7 Tera-electron Volts (TeV) in the LHC's 16.8-mile ring tunnel after the two-month break.

The 7 TeV threshold was originally to have been maintained to the end of 2011, when the LHC was to have been shut down for a year before restarting at twice that collision intensity.

Heuer told Reuters that the collision energy could be increased to 8 TeV until the end of 2012, further increasing the chances of tracking the Higgs boson in the near future.

"The LHC is functioning so well, far beyond our expectations. So if we can add a year now and increase the energy without any added risk, why should we not do it?" he asked.

An extension to end-2012 would mean the machine closes down in 2013 and resumes at the full 14 TeV velocity in 2014.


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