CERN loves the smell of protons in the morning. Last Friday the European particle physics lab began testing the system for injecting a proton beam into the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which if you haven't heard by now is a giant particle accelerator 27 kilometers (17 miles) in circumference. Engineers successfully fired a low-intensity beam of five million protons (the yellow in this image) clockwise for three kilometers between two checkpoints in the ring. Tests continued through Saturday. It was the first time the lab had tried out a magnet that injects protons into the LHC from a less powerful booster accelerator. CERN announced yesterday it will test a counterclockwise beam over the weekend of August 22. The purpose of the LHC is to smash those two beams together, which ought to happen for the first time later this fall. The LHC is scheduled to get its first fully circulating clockwise beam on Sept. 10. You can follow the machine's status at CERN's LHC First Beam Web site, which includes a handy countdown box. Look out, Higgs boson: T-minus 28 days and counting.

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Image credit: CERN