Over the weekend, physicists and engineers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) nudged proton beam energies to a new record: 4 Tera-electron volts (TeV). This record comes shortly after CERN announced last month they'd be cranking up the juice through 2012.
"Record-breaking 4 TeV beams in the #LHC over the weekend (22h40 CET on Friday to be precise). First collisions at 4 TeV planned for April."
Now their goal of 4 TeV has been achieved, CERN aims to collide the first protons at this energy in April. As the LHC collides protons head-on, the counter-circulating protons speeding around the 11-mile ring of supercooled electromagnets under the France-Swiss border will have an effective collision energy of 8 TeV (double the beam energy).
Although these collision energies are impressive, the LHC still isn't operating at its designed maximum. In 2014, after the facility's routine 20-month shutdown, physicists hope that they will be ready to push beam energies to 7 TeV - culminating in collision energies of 14 TeV.
With larger collision energies comes the promise of uncovering new physics. But first on the list of "Cosmic Mysteries to Solve" is to discover the Higgs boson - the long-theorized (and much-hyped) subatomic particle believed to endow all matter in the Universe with mass. Tantalizing hints of the Higgs are beginning to show in the huge quantity of data being spewed by the LHC and the vast archive of data from the recently retired U.S. Tevatron particle accelerator.
Should the Higgs be confirmed to exist (which is becoming more and more likely as the predicted Higgs signal gets stronger), even more exciting discoveries await as the LHC embarks on a new era of high-energy physics.
Image: The massive CMS detector in the LHC (CERN/LHC/CMS)