Ten years ago, scientists were able to discover the Higgs boson particle and help make sense of our universe using the Large Hadron Collider. They did it again in 2018, opening new perspectives on protons.
Now, with a new host of questions, they plan to restart the particle accelerator this month to possibly better understand cosmic unknowns like dark matter.
“It’s a particle that answered some questions for us and gave many others,” Dr. Sarah Demers, a professor of physics at Yale University, told NPR.
The Higgs boson particle was first observed when scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, spun and squashed particles near the speed of light. They achieved this by using the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider.
Since 1964, physicists have speculated that this particle existed, but it took almost 50 years to find proof.
Scientists believe the Higgs field formed a tenth of a billionth of a second after the Big Bang and without it stars, planets and life would not have emerged.
Proving the existence of the Higgs boson was a major milestone in fundamental physics, and Dr. Francois Englert and Dr. Peter Higgs won a Nobel Prize in Physics. Despite scientific achievements, the work of understanding how the universe works is far from over.
The collider completed a second experimental campaign in 2018 which yielded new insights into proton structures and the decay of the Higgs boson.
And after more than three years of maintenance and upgrades, the collider will be restarted on Tuesday – this time tripling the data, maintaining intense beams longer and generally allowing for more study.
“There must be more there because we can’t explain so much around us,” said Demers, who also works at CERN on the third period. “Something really big is missing, and by really big we’re talking about 96% of the universe really big.”
Demers refers to dark matter, which is invisible matter believed to exist from observations of the cosmos, and dark energy, which powers the accelerated expansion of the universe. She hopes the upcoming race will provide insight into the elusive but overwhelming mass of our cosmos.
In a press release, CERN wrote: “Finding the answers to these and other intriguing questions will not only deepen our understanding of the universe at the smallest scales, but could also help unlock some of the greatest mysteries of the universe as a whole, such as how it came to be and what its ultimate fate might be.”
The third cycle is expected to last four years, and scientists are already starting work on cycle 4, which is expected to start in 2030.