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Huge magnet installed to draw out cosmic secrets

March 03, 2007|From Reuters

GENEVA — The world's leading center for research into the origins of matter has taken a giant step toward a 15-year experiment that could unlock secrets of the universe.

A 1,920-ton magnet, the equivalent of five jumbo jets, was lowered Wednesday into an underground cavern at the multinational center, CERN, on the Swiss-French border near Geneva.

"We think this project is going to uncover things we cannot dream of at the moment," said Jos Engelen, chief scientific officer of CERN, the 26-nation European Organization for Nuclear Research.

The focal element of the experiment's Large Hadron Collider is a 17-mile circular channel along which particles will be forced in opposite directions at the speed of light to smash together. The project could bring new knowledge such as the possible existence of dimensions beyond the four of traditional physics (width, length, height and time).

The magnet and its surrounding equipment were moved into place with a custom-built gantry crane and a hydraulic jacking system.

Operations are to begin by the end of the year and to be in full swing by mid-2008.

Using particle accelerators built for an earlier version of the collider, controllers will be able to ensure about 600 million collisions a second. Each collision, according to CERN, will re-create conditions that existed nanoseconds after the Big Bang -- a fireball of energetic radiation that scientists say happened about 15 billion years ago and brought the universe into existence.

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