What was the universe like in the first few moments of its existence? We may not have a time machine to go back and witness that exact moment, but scientists are now able to recreate that brief and momentous time in the lab.
Today, the operators of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) announced that the machine (the world’s largest particle accelerator) had achieved stable beams, and was successfully smashing together tiny particles of lead at incredibly high energies.
The collision reached energies that were twice as large as those produced by any previous collision experiment (1045 trillion electron-volts).
The collision between the streams of positively-charged lead particles (they’ve been stripped of negatively-charged electrons) results in the release of an immense amount of energy, and the creation of a primordial mass of particles, with “temperatures about a quarter of a million times those at the core of the sun” according to physicist John Jowett in a press release from CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research, the scientific group that operates the LHC).
That super-heated, super-dense collection of particles is a quark-gluon plasma, the exact stuff that scientists think was present just seconds after the Big Bang occurred.
Researchers hope that by studying this substance they can better understand the basic physical laws of matter within our universe.
Flip through the gallery above to see how the lead-lead collisions were recorded in four experiments that make up the LHC, and what the investigators working on them hope to find.