All the world's media is going bananas over "first beam" day at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) - the world's most stupendous particle-punisher, which switched on this morning (following an initial hiccup which appeared to be fixed by the traditional expedient of turning it off then on again). Today, it is being strongly implied, is the moment of truth - today is the big day, when the LHC might unmask the elusive "god particle" - or alternatively destroy the world and indeed perhaps the entire universe.
There's just one snag with all that - it's cobblers. All the good, interesting stuff from the LHC - the Higgs deiton, the dark matter, the possibly planet-gobbling black hole dimensional portal threat and/or universe-buster runaway strangelet or monopole soup plagues, dessert topping apocalypses etc - none of that's on offer today. All of these excellent possibilities require the LHC boffins to actually collide some hadrons - well, duh. The clue's in the name. But they aren't ready for that yet.
What's happening today is the inaugural, gentle bowling of some initial protons around the entire 27-km subterranean ultrachilled superconductor magno-track. That's your lot.
In coming months the underground Alpine boffinry chiefs, once happy that they have hadrons whipping round the big ring properly in one direction, will fire up the opposing stream going the other way.
Only then, once the two unprecedentedly puissant particle cannons are reliably ripping out clips of protons on full auto both clockwise and anticlockwise, will the real fun begin. Only then will the boffins begin to seriously meddle with the very fabric of the universe, as they possibly rashly cross the streams of the two colossal energy guns, ramming protons into one another at almost light speed. Thus far, we are told only that this will happen "by the end of the year".
Even then, it will be some little time more before nervous brainboxes actually turn the control known only* as "The Big Knob" right up, doubtless disregarding despairing warnings from their hunchbacked assistants with a cackle of insane laughter as they do so. Only then will the intensity of the LHC's criss-crossing proton or ion beams rise to previously unseen levels as the hurtling particles accelerate past the speeds previously achieved in earlier, lesser atom-smashers like the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider.
Only at that stage - probably a year or more from now - will the colliding protons be disintegrated with sufficient violence to produce the various treats we have been promised. Strangely perhaps, by then it seems a racing cert that the broadcasters will all have gone home, and the scribblers will mostly have ceased to file copy. Once the insane laughs begin to truly ring out in the LHC's underground caverns, once the mad scientists wipe the foam from their lips, roll up their sleeves, lock and load their outrageous particle guns and really start to show what they can do, the chances are that nobody will be watching.
But there will be at least one exception. The Reg hereby pledges to stay on the story, bringing you all the humonguous subterranean cavern magno-doughnut beam cannon news hot off the wires - perhaps with a garnish of hysterical rip-in-the-very-fabric-of-spacetime dimension portal angle here and there. As long as there's a universe to report from, we will continue to follow the Quest for the Big Answers. ®
*To us here on the Reg boffinry desk, anyway.