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3/31/2010
10:36 AM
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Atom Smasher May Yield 'Dark Matter' Secrets

Large Hadron Collider tests are providing insight into foundation and origins of the Universe.

Some scientists believe the record setting experiment at the Large Hadron Collider could provide insights into the mysterious substance known as dark matter—believed by many to be the foundational fabric of the universe.

"I hope that steady running at good luminosity will be achieved and that we may learn what the cosmological 'dark matter' is," said Jack Steinberger, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1998.

Scientists at LHC early Tuesday unleashed a pair of protons that circulated in opposite directions around the collider's 17-mile track until they collided, releasing 7 trillion electronic volts (7 TeV) of energy—three times more than the previous record.

The point of the experiments is to learn more about subatomic particles and their role in the universe. Dark matter is only detectible through its gravitational effects and radiation. LHC researchers are hoping to learn more about the substance through the energy released during their experiments.

Other scientists said the LHC could help determine whether dark matter exists at all. "We have many theories on what we might find, but only experiments can tell us which, if any, are right," said John Ellis, of CERN's Theory Group.

"Why do particles weigh? What is the dark matter that fills the universe? What was the origin of the matter in the universe? The answers provided by the discoveries of the LHC will revolutionize our understanding of how the universe works, and how it has evolved," said Ellis.

Scientists at the LHC, the largest supercollider in the world, have said that getting atomic particles to collide is liking firing two needles at each other from opposite sides of the Atlantic ocean and having them meet head-on.

LHC operators plan to run the collider almost continuously over the next 18 to 24 months.

"This will bring enough data across all potential discovery areas to firmly establish the LHC as the world's foremost facility for high-energy particle physics," the organization said in a statement.

LHC is operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Staff scientists began preparations for Tuesday's event a week ago.

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