-- Scientists were rejoicing tonight after a flawless start to the £5 billion Big Bang experiment, a bold attempt to re-enact the first moments of the universe.
A beam of protons – tiny building blocks of matter – flying just under the speed of light was sent spinning round a 27 kilometre long tunnel buried 100 metres underground near Geneva.
Another beam was then fired in the opposite direction. Later the particles will be smashed into each other at energies up to seven times higher than any achieved before.
The aim is to recreate conditions as tightly squeezed and hot as they were less than a billionth of a second after the Big Bang that gave birth to the universe around 14 billion years ago.
Temperatures inside that primordial fireball almost at the beginning of time reached a million billion degrees C.
All this will take place within the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the biggest and most complex scientific instrument ever built.
British scientists were at the forefront of the design and construction of the particle accelerator, which covers an area straddling the French and Swiss borders the size of the London Underground Circle Line.
Today they celebrated news from the LHC control centre at CERN, the European nuclear research organisation in Geneva, that a beam of protons had successfully been fired all the way round the tunnel ring.
"First beam" was announced at 9.28am, UK time.
LHC project leader Dr Lyn Evans – a Welsh scientist from Aberdare – said: "It’s a fantastic moment. We can now look forward to a new era of understanding about the origins and evolution of the universe."
In the coming weeks scientists will stage particle collisions in four huge detectors arranged around the beam tunnel.
The largest, called Atlas, is as big as a cathedral and as high as a five-storey building. It will effectively photograph particle smashes at a rate of 40 million times a second.
No-one knows precisely what will emerge from the bright flashes of disintegrating protons. --