The Large Hadron Collider fired mankind into a "new era of science" yesterday as it finally produced the world's first high-energy particle collision. After years of setbacks, the $7 billion machine smashed together protons using three times the speed and energy of previous experiments. The achievement, at 11.06am AEDT, meant the world's biggest experiment was finally up and running and scientists could start attempting to unravel the secrets of the universe. Even though particle collisions have been achieved before, yesterday marked the first time one had involved enough power to produce meaningful scientific results. The first two protons hit each other with a total energy of seven trillion electron volts, sending sub-particles flying in every direction. Four detectors positioned along the 27.kilometre underground track picked up these collision "events", providing readings which could rewrite the rules of physics once they have been analysed. The successful collision also dispelled fears that the machine could endanger the Earth by creating black holes that were so strong they could suck in planets and stars. Dr Lyn Evans, a Welsh scientist who is the LHC project leader, said: "It is quite emotional. We had a few problems but we have resolved them and the beams came into collision beautifully. "Today is the end of a very long road. There have been some bumps but it is fantastic to see this today. It is a new era of science." The experiment at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), nearly 100 metres below the Franco-Swiss border, aims to recreate the conditions present just after the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe, 13.7 billion years ago. This will allow researchers to examine the origin of stars and planets. "We're within a billionth of a second of the Big Bang," said James Gillies, a CERN spokesman. Scientists at a control room near Geneva broke into applause and popped champagne corks when the first high energy collisions were recorded. The collider has been described as a racetrack around which two streams of protons run in opposite directions before smashing into one another and breaking up into their smaller components. Reaching 99.99 per cent of the speed of light, each beam packs as much energy as a Eurostar train travelling at 144 km/h. Shooting the particle beams at each other over such a distance is the equivalent of firing needles at each other from either side of the Atlantic. Some of the theories the LHC research could address include the existence of dark matter and the so-called "God Particle" the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle that scientists believe gives mass to other particles and thus to all matter in the universe. The LHC was launched with great fanfare in September 2008, but it was sidetracked just nine days later when a badly soldered part overheated, causing extensive damage to the large magnets in the collider. It cost $49 million to repair and improve the machine before it was started again at the end of November last year. Since then, the collider has performed almost flawlessly, giving scientists valuable data in the month before Christmas, though it is still only running at about half power. Professor Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director-general of CERN, said it was likely to take months for any scientific discoveries to be made as computers sort through the extensive data produced by the collisions. GLOSSARY Particle An object which is sub-atomic - smaller than an atom - and has a definite mass and charge. Hadron A particle with mass, made up of smaller units. Protons and neutrons, which together form the nucleus of an atom, are types of hadron. Quark One of the constituent parts of protons and neutrons, quark particles are thought to be held together by other particles called gluons. Particle accelerator A machine used to accelerate beams of particles in a defined direction at extremely high velocity, almost the speed of light. Collider An accelerator in which two beams travelling in opposite directions are steered so as to cause a high-energy collision between the particles in one beam and those in the other. Higgs bosun A theoretical particle, also known as the "God particle", which is thought to give matter its mass. First proposed by Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh in 1964. The LHC should confirm whether or not it exists. Dark matter Invisible matter that scientists believe makes up some 25 per cent of the universe. The LHC hopes to establish what it is made of. Dark energy A hypothetical form of energy that has an anti-gravitational action and is believed to be powering the acceleration of the expansion of the universe.