The world’s most powerful particle accelerator at the Cern research facility near Geneva is running so well that its closure for an upgrade has been postponed.
The Cern management announced on Monday that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – which among other things seeks to answer questions about the origins of the universe – will now run through to the end of 2012 with a short technical stop at the end of 2011.
It had originally been planned to close it for a lengthy period at the end of 2011 in order to prepare it to run at full power.
The management said expected performance improvements this year should increase the rate at which data is collected, which would provide “tantalising hints” of new physics.
“However, to turn those hints into a discovery would require more data than can be delivered in one year, hence the decision to postpone the long shutdown,” it explained.
The LHC, which currently operates at 3.5 trillion electron volts will now be upgraded in 2013 so that it can run at seven trillion, starting in 2014.
The collider, a European joint project which cost $10 billion (SFr9.45 billion), was launched in 2008, but broke down a few days later, and took several months to repair. Since then it has worked almost flawlessly.
The collider is a circular tunnel, 27 kilometres in circumference, lying under the Franco-Swiss border. High-energy protons in two counter-rotating beams, travelling just under the speed of light, are smashed together to search for so-called exotic particles.
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