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LHC boffins crank beams to 3.5 TeV redline

'Dump cores' catch and stop moving aircraft carriers

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Big news from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) overnight. The titanic proton-punisher has once again smashed all records to achieve the most powerful particle beams ever generated by the human race, at energies of 3.5 Tera-electron-volts - the maximum redline power at which the mighty machine can currently be safely run.

Slide from LHC 0830 morning briefing Friday 19 March 2010.

Uncontrolled emotion was shown by the scientists

The LHc narrowly nudged ahead of the planet's second-most-puissant atomsmasher towards the end of last year's proton billiards season, generating 1.18 TeV beams. The rival Tevatron, located in America, can manage only 0.98 TeV: last night's 3.5 TeV beams at the LHC have now moved particle physics firmly into a new league.

The LHC is actually designed to be capable of still more outrageous 7 TeV beams, which can be crossed over almost head-on to produce unimaginably violent particle collisions at 14 TeV energies. However, following the machine's original fire-up in 2008, a blown power connection led to a disastrous liquid helium superfluid explosion mishap which flung multi-tonne magnet pipes about like cardboard poster tubes and crippled the Collider for months.

Following that incident, engineers painted the new half-power 3.5 TeV redline on the Big Dial. The plan is to work within this limit this year, and then strip out and replace all the relevant power connections around the entire 27km underground tunnel which houses the LHC. This will be a long job, so CERN boffins are keen to get in a good run at 3.5 Tev first so as to pile up some data for their mighty supercomputing grids to crunch in the meantime.

It's worth noting that last night saw no actual particle collisions as such. However, in the natural course of things it's not safe to simply switch off the magnets having created such powerful beams. A full 7 TeV beam contains as much energy as a Royal Navy aircraft carrier steaming at 12 knots; thus a half-power 3.5 TeV one like last night's has as much energy as the same huge ship going at 8 knots (kinetic energy being proportional to the square of velocity).

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