It’s not a start-up per se, nor is it a web company, but the Large Hadron Collider is damn cool — and important. It was fired up this weekend for its first ever test, and despite fears of the world ending due to the device, that hasn’t happened yet.

The Large Hadron Collider (or LHC) is a particle accelerator built by CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. With a 17 mile circumference, it’s the world’s largest and most powerful accelerator. Scientists hope that using it to create environments similar to those found near the time that the Big Bang occurred, they will be able to unlock new secrets of our universe.

What kind of secrets? Oh, just some minor details not yet known to science, such as how elemental particles obtain mass.

The science blog Cosmic Variance has a great rundown of what the LHC could find. At the top of this list is the Higgs boson, which is the only particle in the Standard Model (the theory that describes the fundamental interactions between the particles that make up all matter), that hasn’t yet been detected. The site thinks there is a 95 percent chance the LHC finds this particle, and that could lead to a much better understanding of how our universe works.

Other notable possibilities on Cosmic Variance’s list include finding extra dimensions (these could be so-called “warped” hidden dimensions or a large dimension we have not yet detected), evidence for or against String Theory (perhaps the most popular “theory of everything” in recent times), dark matter (the matter that theoretically makes up most of the Universe but we can’t see it), dark energy (invisible like dark matter, but theoretically making up some 70 percent of the universe — much more than matter), and a bunch of sub-atomic particles that you’ve probably never heard of and I won’t go into.

One reason the LHC has gotten a lot of press recently is that word started to get around that it was technically possible that when the device turned on for the first time, it could create miniature black holes. You hear the word “black hole” and you immediately think end of the world, but any black hole the LHC could create would likely be so small and destroy itself instantaneously that no one would ever notice it.

The likelihood of the LHC creating a stable black hole that could destroy the work is 10 to the negative 25th power, according to Cosmic Variance’s list. For some perspective, the likelihood of finding God is 10 to the negative 20th power, according to the same list.

After the initial test this weekend, the LHC will start up for real on September 10th. At that time, a full-power beam will travel around the accelerator’s 17 mile course and reach 99.99 percent of the speed of light, according to Wired.

If all of this still makes absolutely no sense, I recommend checking out the video below for a different kind of explanation.

For even more, check out some of the pictures and videos blogger Robert Scoble took (embedded below are parts 1 and 2) when he toured the CERN a few months ago.

Update: As commenter JTankers points out below, the first actual particle collisions aren’t likely to take place until October.

[first video via Popular Mechanics photo credit: CERN]

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