- uploaded: Sep 12, 2008
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Scientists have switched on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the device they hope will unravel some of the remaining mysteries of the universe. At 9.30 am local time (8.30 am British Summer Time), 300 feet below the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, the most powerful particle accelerator ever built became fully operational. The team was holding its breath in the countdown to the switch-on after a series of technical hitches, including problems with the cooling system. The Â£5 billion machine has been described as a 17-mile racetrack around which two streams of protons - building blocks of matter - run in opposite directions before smashing into one another. Reaching 99.99 per cent of the speed of light, each beam will pack as much energy as a Eurostar train travelling at 90 mph. The flashes from the collisions may help scientists reproduce the conditions that existed during the first moments after the Big Bang at the birth of the universe. Physicists hope to learn more about the origins of mass, gravity and mysterious dark matter. But concerns have been voiced - in particular by the German chemist Professor Otto Rossler - that black holes created by the LHC will grow uncontrollably and â??eat the planet from the insideâ?. These claims have been dismissed by leading scientists, including Prof Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University who said that the LHC is â??feeble compared with what goes on in the universe.
If a disaster was going to happen, it would have happened already.â? The switch-on saw the first stream of subatomic particles - known as Hadrons - circulating in the tunnel. The first collisions are expected in around 30 days. The LHC will produce beams seven times more energetic than any previous machine, and around 30 times more intense when it reaches its design performance, probably by 2010.