The fact that I'm sitting here writing this and you're sitting there reading it means that fears regarding the Large Hadron Colider (LHC) and the end of the world were a bit overblown. At 10:33 AM CET this morning, the first proton beam successfully completed a circuit of the entire LHC.
The LHC is the latest example of 'Big Science,' a multinational collaboration involving thousands of scientists from over 60 different nations. The largest particle accelerator ever built, scientists hope that data gathered from the LHC will nail down the existence of the elusive Higgs boson, a subatomic particle that is theorized to be responsible the existence of mass.
The collider has been cooled down to a frosty temperature somewhere below 5K (about -271˚C) along its entire length, and one by one, large blocks were removed from the path of the beam, allowing it begin making its journey. The first beam traveled at less than full energy in this test run, but will eventually approach light speed when full operations begin.
The LHC has clearly captured the public's fancy, as the first beams made the front page of many news sources and were celebrated by Google. Nevertheless, its has been the subject of fears from some segments of the general public, who have come to believe that the impact of high energy protons could somehow form a black hole underneath the Swiss countryside, bringing about the demise of planet Earth. Physicists involved in the program have determined there's no science behind these fears.
Big science projects like the LHC only exist thanks to public money, and if that public is going to hand out hundreds of millions of dollars, it's important that they are kept in the loop. In this regard, the LHC has been quite active and transparent. You can even watch a short video clip of the reaction in the control center when the ATLAS detector started picking up the muons that resulted from the first beam striking one of the collimators, devices that narrow the particle stream.
You can also follow the progress of the LHC's journey into action on the web, with live updates from newspapers, and a blog maintained by some of the US' scientific contingent. Last week we reported on some of the outreach being conducted for the LHC, and for those of you looking for more musical LHC action, the LHC rap has been joined by this little ditty found on the US LHC blog. Even Google has been getting in on the action, as you can see by their special homepage graphic. Here's to Big Science!