Sat. Feb 4th, 2023
The LHC's ATLAS detector under construction.
Enlarge / The LHC’s ATLAS detector under construction.

Believe it or not, particle physics has a season, just like baseball. Running a massive particle accelerator takes a lot of energy, so operators schedule downtime for periods when local energy demand is often high. For Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, located on Long Island, this means avoiding the summer air-conditioning season. For CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, winter heating demand determines the seasons.

And, as those in the Northern Hemisphere may have noticed, winter is now over. It’s particle season again and today the first stable proton beams of 2017 are at the LHC.

The 2016/2017 winter break was much shorter than the two-year downtime during which the LHC was upgraded to handle collisions with energies of 13 Tera-electron Volts. Still, the people who run the hardware use the winter breaks to do maintenance and usually some minor upgrades. So every spring they go through the process of recommissioning the hardware and making sure everything is working properly before any crashes occur.

The process apparently went smoothly, as the first declaration of stable beams was made earlier today. Befitting the cautious nature of the restart, the bars were relatively small. Each of the accelerator’s two “beams” are actually made of beams of protons pressed together, and the LHC can handle a beam of more than a thousand beams. Today’s beams had only three woods in each. So while the LHC’s four detectors collect data, it’s just a small amount right now; operators will increase the number of forests in the coming weeks.

This year’s run will do everything it can to get the most collisions out of the existing hardware. Increasing the number of collisions will give physicists a chance to study the Higgs boson in more detail and take a closer look at some hints of strange behavior from previous runs. Barring a catastrophic failure, the run will continue through the summer and into the fall.

If you want to follow what’s happening in the LHC in real time, the operators have a web page that is constantly updated.

By akfire1

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