Crowds flock to discover Big Bang secrets

CERN, Europe's atom-smashing laboratory, attracted over 60,000 visitors at the weekend, as it prepares for a summer experiment designed to simulate Big Bang conditions and unveil the sub-atomic component known as "the God Particle".


More than 60,000 people this weekend visited the immense cathedral of cables and steel at CERN, Europe's atom-smashing laboratory that could soon unleash some secrets of the universe.

More than 23,000 turned up on Saturday for a family day arranged for the centre's personnel. On Sunday, another 40,000 visitors arrived to for a look at the massive Large Hadron Collider (LHC), said CERN spokesman James Gillier.

And many people many waited for hours for the experience.

Around 19 years in the making, the LHC, also the largest scientific instrument ever made, is expected to be put into service in the summer.

If things go according to plan, it could help to unveil a sub-atomic component, the Higgs Boson, which has even been dubbed "the God Particle."

Other work on the LHC could explain dark matter and dark energy -- strange phenomena that account for 96 percent of the Universe.

The LHC will whizz protons to 99.9999 percent of the speed of light in two parallel beams in a ring-shaped tunnel 27 kilometres (16.9 miles) long and up to 175 metres (568 feet) below the ground.

The tunnel stretches out from Switzerland into France, looping back into Swiss territory.

"After it is put into service, only technicians and physicists will have access to the tunnel due to the radioactivity released by the experiments," Antonio Cuenca, who is in charge of security and emergencies at CERN, told a small group of visitors.

Besides assuaging the curiosity of many visitors, CERN, officially called the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, also wanted to reassure those living in the region who are concerned about the dark matter, or dark energy, that would be created artificially under their feet.

"There is nothing to worry about -- the quantity of dark matter would be minute," said Sophie Tesauri, CERN's press officer.

In July or possibly August, the LHC will start its work with a programme of tests before cranking up to full intensity.

In October, CERN will invite heads of state and government to an official inauguration.

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