Round two of Humanity vs. Particle Physics has finally kicked off, with scientists at CERN announcing this morning that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is once again delivering data for the first time in 27 months. The world's largest particle accelerator started running again last month after nearly two years of maintenance work, but at 10:40AM local time today, operators declared they had produced the "stable beams" necessary for experiments. Thanks to various upgrades, collisions can now be carried out at energy levels of up to 13 trillion electron volts (TeV) — almost double the 8 TeV achieved during its initial run from 2010 to 2013.
"Let’s see what they will reveal to us about how our universe works."
"The first three-year run of the LHC, which culminated with a major discovery in July 2012, was only the start of our journey. It is time for new physics!" said CERN director general Rolf Heuer in a press statement. "We have seen the first data beginning to flow. Let’s see what they will reveal to us about how our universe works."
When the $10 billion LHC was last operating, it discovered the Higgs boson: the elementary particle that gives other particles mass, and the last major gap in the Standard Model of particle physics. This theory explains how the universe's fundamental particles interact via strong, electromagnetic, and weak forces, but it has its limitations. It doesn't fully explain gravity, for example, or the existence of a hypothetical type of matter known as dark matter — which doesn't absorb, emit, or reflect light, but is thought to outweigh visible matter in the universe by a ratio of six to one.
Dark matter, extra dimensions, and micro black holes
Armed with the LHC's new operating energies, physicists want to push beyond the bounds of the Standard Model and hunt for these new, unknown particles. As well as dark matter, scientists at CERN will also be looking for "partner particles" — new particles that are predicted by a theory known as supersymmetry, a framework that many physicists think is the best way of overcoming the limitations of the Standard Model. It's not all about particles, though: the LHC could also provide evidence of more mysterious phenomena such as extra dimensions and micro black holes.
All this is to come, however. "Over the next few months, the rate of collisions will increase very significantly, so that by the middle of the summer we'll have sufficient data that we can begin breaking new ground in our searches for new physics beyond the Standard Model," Dan Tovey, a professor of particle physics and CERN physicist, told BBC News. We can't wait.