The successful test run of a massive particle collider brought scientists a step closer to finding answers to a question that has haunted people for centuries: How was the universe created?
The US$9 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which took some 20 years to build outside of Geneva, last week shot its first beam of protons around a 17-mile, vacuum-sealed loop buried 50 to 150 meters below the ground.
The test was a critical milestone in getting to the project's ultimate goal of shooting two particle beams toward each other at 99.9 percent of the speed of light. Colliding the beams will create showers of new particles that could re-create conditions in the universe just moments after the big bang that many scientists think created it.
With the test completed, the team of scientists overseeing the 111-nation effort is using a worldwide grid of servers and desktops to study the results.
Ruth Pordes, executive director of the Open Science Grid, which was created in 2005 to support the project, said that the US portion of the global computer and storage grid is made up of more than 25,000 mostly Linux-based computers running 43,000 processors.
The grid's machines are housed at several universities, the US Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.
Harvey Newman, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology, added that there are about 30,000 servers and more than 100,000 processor cores around the world hooked into grids that support the LHC project.
"The distributed computing model is essential to doing the computing, storage and hosting of the many petabytes of data from the experiments," he added.
Newman said that scientists last week sent one beam around the tube and, when that was complete, sent another in the opposite direction. Each beam made one circuit around the accelerator. And they both reached 99.999998 percent of the speed of light, he said.
The first particle collision should come in days or weeks, said Bolek Wyslouch, a physics professor at MIT, who has been working on the project for the past seven years.