Before proton collisions take place again at the LHC, the CMS detector has been looking at the result of collisions of cosmic particles high up in the atmosphere. This event display shows the track of a muon that reached the CMS detector 100 m underground and passed through the muon chambers (in red) and the silicon tracker (in yellow). Muons as this one are used to calibrate the detector in advance of proton collisions. (Click to enlarge)
CMS is eager to see the first collisions of the LHC Run2. The recent news that the LHC restart may be delayed because of a hardware issue gives us extra time to prepare for those collisions. Far from being idle waiting for collisions, CMS is busy taking advantage of other types of collision.
CMS is never idle. Without beams, the data-taking does not stop: collisions of cosmic particles high up in the atmosphere produce showers of particles, including muons. Some of these muons have high enough energies to penetrate through the 100 m of ground over the CMS detector and traverse it, leaving behind a trail of dots in our detectors. By connecting the dots, we can learn where the different detector components are inside the huge volume (~3700m3) of CMS to better than a millimetre. This is very important because the whole detector was taken apart and put back together in preparation for Run2. With the cosmic ray muons, we can also synchronise the different detectors down to one hundred-millionth of a second, given that cosmic muons interact with many detectors as they cross the experiment. After a long shutdown, we are also coming back to operating the experiment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is always a shift crew operating and monitoring the experiment, a larger crew of experts that stand ready to intervene in case issues arise, and an even larger community that checks the quality of the data collected. So we exploit this cosmic debris to understand our detectors to the needed precision to later find again the Higgs boson and possibly new, as-yet undiscovered, particles; the more cosmic muon signals we record and analyse, the better prepared we will be to tackle proton collisions at 13 TeV.
by André David and Dave Barney