The Large Hadron Collider, the atom smasher that has hunted for antimatter and the elusive Higgs boson, shut down in February 2013 for an overhaul and upgrade. Now, scientists are getting ready to fire up the collider, which has been called "one of the greatest engineering milestones of mankind," again.
CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research that operates the facility, reported that the atom smasher is nearly cooled to its perfect operating temperature of 1.9 degrees above absolute zero. That means the scientists can soon run needed tests before they circulate proton beams again for the first time in more than two years.
"After the huge amount of work done over the last two years, the [collider] is almost like a new machine," said Frederick Bordry, CERN's director for accelerators and technology, in a statement. "Restarting this extraordinary accelerator is far from routine. Nevertheless, I'm confident that we will be on schedule to provide collision experiments by May 2015."
CERN noted that the collider, which sits astride the Franco-Swiss border, should be operating at twice the energy of its first run in 2008.
"With this new energy level, the [collider] will open new horizons for physics and for future discoveries," said CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer. "I'm looking forward to seeing what nature has in store for us."
The Large Hadron collider, a 17-mile, underground, vacuum-sealed loop, was designed to help scientists find clues to some of the biggest questions surrounding dark matter, anti-matter, the Higgs boson and the Big Bang theory. By crashing the particle beams into each other, it replicates the conditions in the universe just moments after its inception.
About two years ago, scientists working with the collider and studying the data it produced reported that they were nearly positive that they had found the Higgs boson, also known as the "God particle" because of its importance to how the universe works.
The Higgs boson is believed that to be the particle that gives everything mass. Without it, nothing would have weight or even structure.
However, now it's not so clear that the collider did find the Higgs boson.
Just last month, a group of physicists said they don't have enough data -- and not enough exact data -- to be sure that what was found was the Higgs boson or some other particle.