Ten years ago, scientists were able to discover the Higgs Boson particle and help make sense of the our universe using the Large Hadron Collider. They did it again in 2018, unlocking new insights 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.
“This is a particle that has answered some questions for us and given many others,” Dr. Sarah Demers, a physics professor at Yale University, tells NPR.
The Higgs Boson particle was first observed when scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, spun and crashed particles together near the speed of light. They did that by using the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator — the Large Hadron Collider.
Since 1964, physicists theorized this particle existed, but it took nearly 50 years to find evidence.
Scientists believe the Higgs field was formed a tenth of a billionth of a second after the Big Bang and without it, stars, planets and life would not have emerged.
The evidence of the Higgs Boson’s existence was a major milestone in fundamental physics, and Dr. François Englert and Dr. Peter Higgs won a Nobel Prize in physics. Despite the scientific achievement, the work in understanding how the universe operates is far from over.
The collider finished a second experimental run in 2018 that gave new insights into the structures of protons and how the Higgs Boson decays.
And after more than three years of maintenance and upgrades, the collider will launch again on Tuesday – this time tripling the data, maintaining intense beams for longer and generally enabling more studies.
“There has to be more out there because we can’t explain so many of the things that are around us,” said Demers, who is also at CERN working on the third run. “There’s something really big missing, and by really big, we’re talking about 96 percent of the universe really big.”
What Demers is referring to is dark matter, which is invisible matter believed to exist from observations of the cosmos, and dark energy, which fuels the accelerating expansion of the universe. She hopes that the upcoming run will produce insight into the elusive but overwhelming bulk of our cosmos.
In a news release, CERN wrote, “Finding the answers to these and other intriguing questions will not only further our understanding of the universe at the smallest scales but may also help unlock some of the biggest mysteries of the universe as a whole, such as how it came to be the way it is and what its ultimate fate might be.”
The third run is expected to go on for the next four years, and scientists are already starting to work on Run 4, scheduled to begin in 2030.