A microscopic black hole produced in the collision of two protons (a computer-generated image of the ATLAS detector at CERN)

LHC gets year-long extension

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been given a year-long extension which could lead to “tantalising hints of new physics”.

The LHC – which spans the border between Switzerland and France about 100m underground - will now run until the end of 2012 instead of the original date of 2011, CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research said.

The decision gives the LHC’s experiments a good chance of finding new physics in the next two years, before it goes into a long shutdown to prepare for higher energy running in 2014, CERN said.

CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology Steve Myers said if LHC continued to improve in 2011 as it did in 2010 then “we’ve got a very exciting year ahead of us”.

The LHC was previously scheduled to run to the end 2011 before going into a long technical stop necessary to prepare it for running at its full design energy of 7 TeV per beam. However, the machine’s excellent performance in its first full year of operation forced a rethink, CERN said.

Expected performance improvements in 2011 should increase the rate that the experiments can collect data by at least a factor of three compared to 2010. This would lead to enough data being collected this year to bring tantalising hints of new physics, if there is new physics currently within reach of the LHC operating at its current energy, CERN said.

However, to turn those hints into a discovery would require more data than can be delivered in one year, hence the decision to postpone the long shutdown. If there is no new physics in the energy range currently being explored by the LHC, running through 2012 will give the LHC experiments the data needed to fully explore this energy range before moving up to higher energy.

CERN’s Research Director Sergio Bertolucci said with the LHC running so well in 2010 and further improvements in performance expected, there was a “real chance that exciting new physics may be within our sights by the end of the year”.

“For example, if nature is kind to us and the lightest supersymmetric particle, or the Higgs boson, is within reach of the LHC’s current energy, the data we expect to collect by the end of 2012 will put them within our grasp.”

There will be a short technical stop at the end of this year before the LHC resumes in early 2012.

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