It's a good indication of the rabid anticipation surrounding the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that any tidbit about the giant particle accelerator's restart is scrutinized as if it were the Zapruder film. A case in point is a single image from a 52-slide presentation given recently by Jörg Wenninger, a member of the operations group at CERN, the European lab for particle physics, where the LHC sits dormant. (An electrical malfunction that caused a helium leak crippled the accelerator shortly after it came online in September.)

The slide in question provides two scenarios, one in which the LHC starts up again as planned next summer and another in which the beam is not switched on until 2010 to allow for a full upgrade of pressure relief systems. Several blogs made note of the slide, fueling speculation that it would be a full year before the world's biggest science experiment gets under way in earnest. Not true, CERN spokesperson James Gillies told in an e-mail, insisting that "the LHC will start up in 2009."

Gillies acknowledges that the lab's priority to begin collecting data from collisions "will probably entail a period of reduced energy running," meaning that some of the more exotic phenomena physicists hope to probe at the accelerator's highest energies may have to wait. He says that more details will be made available in a report set to be released later this week.

Of course, skeptical observers will point out that many target dates for the LHC's start-up have come and gone, so it's not inconceivable to think that another delay could arise from an unexpected quarter. But for the moment, CERN is gunning for collisions before the end of next year.

CREDIT: Maximilien Brice/CERN