Earlier this morning the Large Hadron Collider successfully smashed two proton beams together at 3 times the previous record speed. Unfortunately, it will probably be at least a few months before we know any of the results of the collisions. That’s because there’s so much data produced from just one collision that it takes even the world’s fastest supercomputers a considerable amount of time to do all the number-crunching. In the meantime, they’ll probably be doing even more collisions at even higher velocities. Amazingly, even though they’re shattering all the records for collision velocity, this thing is still only in the testing phase. It could be at least another year before they’re smashing particles at the machine’s full potential. I especially enjoy the analogy made by Steve Myers of CERN that aligning the beams is akin to “firing needles across the Atlantic and getting them to collide half way.” Good analogies really put things into perspective. This device is easily the most significant piece of technology mankind has ever built. More can be found at Discovery News. I was also elated to see that this story made headlines on CNN.com this morning.

In somewhat related news, particle collisions (though much less powerful) might be the cause of Toyota’s recent accelerator problems. The current thinking is that cosmic rays may be responsible for glitches in the processing chips used by Toyota in their cars’ computers, and that those glitches are causing the faulty accelerator problem. It sounds rather ridiculous, but it’s actually happened before in other sensitive electronics. The earth’s upper atmosphere is constantly bombarded with radiation from not only our own sun, but also high-energy gamma rays from distant supernovae. The ozone layer absorbs almost all of this deadly radiation, but the impacts result in a cascade of lower-energy particles that do make it to the surface. These are mostly harmless, but when they impact sensitive microprocessors, they can wreak havoc. Since Toyota has been a pioneer into the realm of increasingly computerized vehicles, that puts them at higher risk for these types of problems. (Via Live Science)

Exciting news today in the world of science!

First, the Large Hadron Collider underwent several tests last week in which beams of protons were successfully circulated around the massive 17-mile installation. Those tests all pointed to a “go” for the first actual collisions, which happened yesterday. These collisions were still only tests, and nowhere near the full power needed to look for the elusive Higgs Boson. But with this first collision, the LHC is now officially the world’s biggest functioning particle colider. There’s still a lot of testing and preparation to do before they start doing the “real” experiments, but this is still very exciting. (Via Discovery News)

Secondly, yesterday also marked the kickoff of a new science education campaign by the Obama Administration. I can’t even describe how happy I am to know this is happening. It’s the best government-related news I’ve heard in a loooong time… probably since Obama won the election. I will echo Dr. Phil Plait’s sentiments that the following quote from Obama’s speech is a symphony to my ears: “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

WIN. EPIC WIN. There may yet be hope for humanity.