Third Data Server From the Sun

Chicago-bound motorists passing mile marker 121 on Interstate-88 through Aurora, Illinois, on Sept. 30, 2011, at 3:00 p.m. likely noticed nothing that seemed particularly remarkable. To their right was a scene of humdrum office parks, and to the left was a low-slung sprawl of buildings, fences, and trees fringed with the first yellow edges of fall color. In the distance, the skyscrapers of the Loop would soon materialize from the afternoon haze.

Appearances, however, were deceptive. Unbeknownst to that heavy stream of Friday traffic, the drivers were threading, both physically and metaphorically, though a moment of profound and potentially far-reaching transition.

Just north of I-88, at the Fermi National Laboratory, the Tevatron Collider had, at 3:00 p.m., completed the last minute of its final day of operation, a victim of budget cuts. For a final few moments, in an awe-inspiring 1.24-mile wide ring of superconducting magnets whose footprint is visible from space, protons and antiprotons had raced in opposite directions at full speed, executing nearly 50 laps per millisecond, colliding head-on in exquisitely staged, almost vanishingly fleeting microscopic disasters where temperatures had exceeded a quadrillion degrees, revisiting, in a quiet corner of suburbia, the extreme state of nature that held sway during the first second of the universe’s existence.

That afternoon’s shuttering of the Tevatron closed the

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus7 min readScience
We Need to Talk About Peat: Earth’s great storehouses of carbon are looking ominous.
In his poems about strange bodies buried in the bogs of Northern Europe, the late Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney describes peatlands filled with “drowned-mouse fibres dried up and the whole limp, soggy cluster … Of weed leaf and turf mould.” Such is th
Nautilus6 min read
How to Give Mars an Atmosphere, Maybe
Earth is most fortunate to have vast webs of magnetic fields surrounding it. Without them, much of our atmosphere would have been gradually torn away by powerful solar winds long ago, making it unlikely that anything like us would be here. Scientists
Nautilus5 min read
How the Neutrino’s Tiny Mass Could Help Solve Big Mysteries
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Of all the known particles in the universe, only photons outnumber neutrinos. Despite their abundance, however, neutrinos are hard to catch and inspect, as they interact with matter