Two events this month promise to inch (or leap) us forward in understanding what formed the universe and galaxies beyond: just hours ago, the first collisions between protons were expected in the problem-plagued Large Hadron Collider (LHC) buried below the French-Swiss border.
The second is Hubble's Space Telescope's first photographs of dark matter deep in space.
You can watch a CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) LHC Physics First live webcasts Tuesday as physicists await the first collisions. I have been listening live all morning for reports of the first collisions: they were confirmed at 10:20 EDT, according to my watch.
Call it revenge of the giddy, sleepless, choked-up and in some cases tipsy physicists as they celebrate the restarting of the LHC and show 3-D recreations of the collisions. The webcasts are reminiscent of continuous TV coverage in the early days of the space missions, complete with applauding and cheering scientists in the control room : they are in English and are great to listen to in background if you've got other things to do.
The New York Times eloquently reported on the LHC's seminal event.
"Following two false starts due to electrical failures, protons whipped to more than 99 percent of the speed of light and to energy levels of 3.5 trillion electron volts apiece around a 17-mile underground magnetic racetrack outside of Geneva a little after 1 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET). They crashed together inside apartment-building sized detectors designed to capture every evanescent flash and fragment from microscopic fireballs thought to hold insights into the beginning of the world."
Physicists are trying to recreate the conditions following the Big Bang, which are theorized to have created our universe. Protons and Ions in beams of light known as Hadrons racing around the "magnetic racetrack" in opposite directions smash into each other, creating sub-atomic particles.
Scientists expect to take 18-24 months to study the new particles from the collisions. From the press statement:
“With these record-shattering collision energies, the LHC experiments are propelled into a vast region to explore, and the hunt begins for dark matter, new forces, new dimensions and the Higgs boson,” said the LHC's collaboration spokesperson, Fabiola Gianotti.
Higgs boson is a theoretical elementary particle that physicists predict they will find as a result of the collisions. The theory was postulated by several physicists in 1964 including Peter Higgs. Boson is the name for subatomic particles.
Not be outdone, NASA released images on March 15 shot by the Hubble Space Telescope that for the first time shows what it thinks is dark matter, another theoretical substance that offers to clues to galaxy formation. The cloudy ring in the image is the result of a "titanic collision" between two galaxy and behaves like a ripple in water, according to the NASA press statement.
"The ring's discovery is among the strongest evidence yet that dark matter exists. Astronomers have long suspected the existence of the invisible substance as the source of additional gravity that holds together galaxy clusters. Such clusters would fly apart if they relied only on the gravity from their visible stars. Although astronomers don't know what dark matter is made of, they hypothesize that it is a type of elementary particle that pervades the universe," according to the NASA press statement.
It's a brave new world, one that we are closer to understanding.
Follow me on Twitter.