In talking about the conception of the universe, about the only fact scientists agree on is that our universe does exist (that is, if we can believe our own perceptions), but after that, we have only hypotheses and no absolutes. Many people once believed that the universe was infinite, having no beginning and no end, but in later years scientists came up with the Big Bang Theory which led them to believe that, although there may be infinity beyond the universe, the universe itself is finite. The Big Bang Theory proposes that about 15 billion years ago a giant explosion occurred that triggered the expansion of the universe. This theory maintains that, before this, all matter and energy were contained at one point, but at the moment of the Big Bang, all particles were sent rushing away from each other.
Scientists have attempted for some time to find a way to further understand The Big Bang Theory and the creation of the universe. This year they have made a step forward in doing just that by building a machine capable of creating a situation that mimics the Big Bang on a smaller scale.
On September 10, 2008, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) fired a beam of protons inside a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel, representing 20 years of work by physicists, engineers, technicians and support staff. The LHC is the world's largest particle accelerator with a circumference of 27 km. There are a total of 9300 magnets inside. It is located about 100 m underground near Geneva and runs through both French and Swiss territory. The LHC was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research and is staffed by physicists and engineers from around the world.
The LHC will mimic the conditions after the Big Bang by colliding two beams of subatomic particles (called hadrons) head-on, 30 million times a second, producing energy levels in the range of 1,250 TeV, approximating the energy level only moments after the Big Bang. Trillions of particles will race around the accelerator ring at 99.99% the speed of light through a tube which maintains a continuous vacuum. Magnetic superconductors will accelerate and guide the particles. The energy will be increased as the beams circle through the magnets at super-freezing temperatures. They will then be maintained in a storage ring where the magnets will keep circulating the beam, making it possible for the beam to be sent to various testing areas in the LHC.
Physicists are hopeful that products such as the Higgs boson (sometimes referred to as the "God particle"), the last particle from the Standard Model of particle physics, which has not yet been observed, will be produced. It is also hoped that a glimpse of the dark matter that makes up 95% of the universe but which has not been observed will occur.
It is sobering to realize how little of what is out there we can actually see. Furthermore, there might be some evidence of the dimensions mentioned in the String Theory, a theory that was developed in the 1970's to explain inconsistencies in the behavior of hadrons and other particles of physics.
This is by far the best scientific discovery of 2008.