Saturday science subject: The LHC is go

— 11:11 AM on September 13, 2008

You may have heard the news by now. Scientists at the CERN lab near Geneva, Switzerland shot the first particles through the Large Hadron Collider earlier this week. On the morning of September 10, a beam of protons traversed the $8-billion particle accelerator's 27-km (17-mile) circuit in a clockwise motion. As the New Scientist reports, "Progress was made in short steps of a few kilometres, so that physicists could learn how to steer the beam, which is travelling at 99.9998% the speed of light."

Reportedly, the machine exceeded scientists' expectations. "It took only 55 minutes for physicists to steer beams around the full 27km, and the LHC worked on its first go, far better than anyone dared to hope." For a quick guided tour of the LHC and a word about what it should accomplish, check out the video below:

So, when will the LHC start actually colliding particles? Not for a while, the New Scientist explains. "It will be several weeks before physicists accelerate two proton beams travelling in opposite directions to their full energy of 7 teraelectronvolts, and smash them head on."

If you're worried the collisions will create black holes that will destroy the Earth, don't be, says LiveScience: Hawking radiation should cause the black holes to evaporate almost instantly, and according to CERN spokesman James Gillies, "Earth is bathed with cosmic rays powerful enough to create black holes all the time, and the planet hasn't been destroyed yet." Even if the black holes somehow survived, Greg Landsberg of Brown University in Rhode Island points out they would suck in matter so slowly it would take them "much more than the age of universe to destroy even one milligram of Earth material."

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