Europe's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will start smashing its first particles in October and run through the winter as a rival U.S. facility closes in on the Higgs boson, or "God particle."

Atom-smashers are normally shut down in the winter to avoid incurring peak electricity charges, and the decision to keep the $6 billion accelerator, the world's largest and most powerful scientific instrument, going will cost around $20 million in additional running costs.

But the move, a first for the CERN particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, should advance the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the elusive particle that is predicted to give matter its mass.

If it exists, the LHC should find it, but the rival, less powerful, U.S. accelerator at Fermilab outside Chicago could still get there first.

Lyn Evans, project leader for the LHC at CERN, told The Times: "This will give us a shot much earlier. I always wish Fermilab good luck, but they will have a hard job now.

"I've no doubt that they will publish more limits for the Higgs, but it's going to be very hard for them to go much further. That's going to be a job for the LHC."

[The Large Hadron Collider has also been called the "Doomsday Machine" because some fear it will create a black hole that could gobble up the Earth. Most scientists say those worries are exaggerated.]

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