Ten years ago, scientists were able to discover the Higgs boson particle and help to understand our universe with the Large Hadron Collider. They did it again in 2018 and gained new insights into protons.
Now, with a new set of questions, they plan to restart the particle accelerator this month to potentially better understand cosmic unknowns like dark matter.
“This is a particle that has answered some questions for us and given us many others,” says Dr. Sarah Demers, a physics professor at Yale University, told NPR.
The Higgs boson was first observed when scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) spun and collided particles at almost the speed of light. To do this, they used the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world – the Large Hadron Collider.
Since 1964, physicists have theorized that this particle existed, but it took nearly 50 years to find evidence.
Scientists believe that the Higgs field formed a tenth of a billionth of a second after the Big Bang and that without it, stars, planets and life would not have formed.
The proof of the existence of the Higgs boson was an important milestone in basic physics, and Dr. Francois Englert and Dr. Peter Higgs received a Nobel Prize in Physics. Despite the scientific achievements, the work to understand how the universe works is far from over.
The collider completed a second experimental run in 2018 that gave new insights into the structures of protons and the decay of the Higgs boson.
And after more than three years of maintenance and upgrades, the Collider will launch again on Tuesday – this time with a tripling of data, longer maintenance of intense beams, and more studies in general.
“There has to be more out there because we can’t explain so many things around us,” said Demers, who is also working on the third run at CERN. “Something really big is missing, and by really big we’re talking about 96 percent of the universe being really big.”
What Demers is referring to is dark matter, which is invisible matter believed to exist based on observations of the cosmos, and dark energy, which is driving the accelerated expansion of the universe. She hopes the upcoming run will provide insights into the elusive but overwhelming bulk of our cosmos.
In a press release, CERN wrote: “Finding the answers to these and other intriguing questions will not only advance our understanding of the universe at the smallest scales, but may also help unlock some of the greatest mysteries of the universe as a whole, such as: how it came about, what it is like, and what its ultimate destiny might be.”
The third run is expected to last over the next four years, and scientists are already beginning work on run 4, which is scheduled to begin in 2030.