Wednesday, November 30, 2011

'UFOs' Disrupting Search for 'God Particle'

Physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a particle accelerator at CERN Laboratory in Switzerland, are trying to slam particles together hard enough to break them into never-before-seen pieces, which could solve some of the biggest puzzles in nature.

But UFOs — unidentified falling objects, that is — keep getting in their way.

The LHC is a 17-mile (27-km) circular tunnel lined with powerful magnets, which accelerate protons (particles in the nuclei of atoms) to 99.9999991 percent the speed of light. Beams of these super-brisk protons are accelerated clockwise around the ring and collide with beams traveling counter-clockwise, and, like a well-struck piƱata, a dead-on hit produces a thrilling outburst of subatomic goodies. When they turn the proton beams up to full power, the physicists hope to find the Higgs boson, also known as the "God particle," which is believed to create the drag that gives everything else mass, among the collision debris. They'll also look for dark matter, the invisible substance that permeates the outskirts of galaxies.

However, since last year, something has been fluttering in the way of the proton beams and dampening the force of their blows, the physicists say. These "UFOs" aren't from outer space — they're probably microscopic dust particles of unknown origin — but they're still mysterious, and while they're around, the prize goodies will likely remain stashed. [LHC On Hold Until 2012]

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