Scientists have created a mini Big Bang in an experiment to reveal what conditions would have been a millionth of a second after the birth of the universe.
Using a Large Hadron Collider, researchers at the CERN laboratory in Geneva smashed lead ions together at close to the speed of light, generating temperatures a million times hotter than the centre of the sun.
The £5 billion machine had previously been colliding protons — sub-atomic particles — in the search for the Higgs boson or “God particle” that is thought to give matter its mass.
A new series of experiments, colliding lead ions, resulted in a mini Big Bang creating a dense ‘soup’ of sub-atomic particles last seen just after the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago.
One of the accelerator’s four detectors, ALICE (A Lead Ion Collider Experiment) will examine this ‘soup’ for clues to the early Universe.
Dr David Evans, a member of the UK team from the University of Birmingham, said: “We are thrilled with the achievement.
“The collisions generated mini Big Bangs and the highest temperatures and densities ever achieved in an experiment.
“This process took place in a safe, controlled environment generating incredibly hot and dense sub-atomic fireballs with temperatures of over 10 trillion degrees, a million times hotter than the centre of the sun.
“At these temperatures even protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of atoms, melt resulting in a hot dense soup of quarks and gluons known as a quark-gluon plasma.”
Evans was keen to stress that the Big Bang experiments are safe after fears had been raised that micro black holes could be created- subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars – and endanger the universe.
Phew. Anyone else worried about destroying the universe at work today?
Get more info about the CERN laboratory here: public.web.cern.ch/public