Scientists will restart the Large Hadron Collider to uncover dark matter

Thousands of magnets have to work "like an orchestra" to fire it up once again.
Chris Young

Scientists from CERN will fire up the 27-kilometer-long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) once again this week after a long shutdown caused by maintenance, upgrades, and COVID-19 delays, a Reuters report reveals.

The LHC was shut down after its successful second run finished in December of 2018. Scheduled maintenance and upgrade work followed, but its third run was also delayed by the pandemic.

Now, three years later, the restart will be a complex procedure, and it isn't guaranteed to go off without a hitch on the first attempt. 

"It's not flipping a button," Rende Steerenberg, in charge of control room operations, explained to Reuters. The system has to work "like an orchestra," he said, and "this comes with a certain sense of tension, nervousness."

"In order for the beam to go around all these magnets have to play the right functions and the right things at the right time," he continued.

Materials inside the LHC will face a near 300-degree temperature swing, and the thousands of magnets used to concentrate particles into a tight beam will have to be carefully calibrated for everything to work.

From discovering the "God particle" to uncovering dark matter

The LHC was first fired up in 2008 and a batch of collisions observed between 2010-2013 provided the first evidence of the Higgs boson particle, also known as the "God particle", which is believed to have played a vital role in the formation of the early universe.

It is the world's largest physics laboratory. In March, CERN announced it would stop collaborating with Russian scientists following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The European organization is also planning a successor for LHC, the €20 billion ($21.9 billion) Future Circular Collider

Physicists hope the LHC will now continue to help the scientific community in its investigation of "ghost particles" and other mysterious phenomena. 

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Many scientists at CERN are turning their attention to uncovering dark matter — the mysterious energy that is five times more prevalent than ordinary matter but has so far evaded direct detection. So far, the LHC has mainly provided evidence for what particles do not account for dark matter.

In a post on CERN's website, dark-matter theorist Tim Tait of UC Irvine said, "the LHC has really broken new ground in the search for dark matter in the form of weakly interacting massive particles, by covering a wide array of potential signals predicted by either production of dark matter, or production of the particles mediating its interactions with ordinary matter."

"All of the observed results have been consistent with models that don't include dark matter, and give us important information as to what kinds of particles can no longer explain it," he continued.

In his interview with Reuters, Steerenberg explained that for the LHC's next run, CERN will "increase the number of collisions drastically and therefore the probability of new discoveries". After it restarts, the collider is expected to operate until another scheduled shutdown between 2025 and 2027.

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