As reported by Scientific American:
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), nearing readiness outside Geneva, Switzerland, was designed to smash protons together at the highest energies ever achieved in hopes of unlocking new secrets of the universe. But to date, all that’s traveled through its circular beam pipe are ping-pong balls to test for obstructions.
That’s all about to change. This weekend, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, plans to test a key component of the accelerator by injecting a low-intensity beam of protons clockwise into the LHC and letting it travel three kilometers (two miles) through the machine.
Assuming all goes as planned, the lab announced today that it will send the first beam around all 27 kilometers (17 miles) of pipe on September 10, the machine’s official start-up date.
I don’t think this test will end up getting widely publicized outside of the scientific community. It’s just a preliminary test, and plus, much of the fanfare would be stolen by the Olympics in Beijing. Maybe it’s actually better that the attention of the world will be somewhere else this weekend, so that the people at CERN can work through the inevitable glitches and false starts without a half-informed reporter sticking a mic in their face asking what’s wrong.
I guess the LHC era doesn’t really start until they send the proton beam all the way around, but this is still exciting for those of us who have been tracking the progress more closely. And I’m excited to be able to stay that I moved to grad school on the same weekend that the LHC was started up. (I know, I’m a nerd, but what can I say?)
Of course, some of the doomsayers are jumping on this test, and wondering if we’ll make it through the weekend because of the possibility of tiny black holes that will eat the world. Even though the idea that microscopic black holes pose a threat to humanity is complete nonsense, the skeptics can sleep even easier this weekend, because with no collisions, there will be no chance of creating black holes this weekend. In fact, they won’t even pass Tevatron energies until later in the year. So, sleep easy, black hole conspiracy theorists.