CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has now become the world’s highest energy particle accelerator, having successfully accelerated its twin beams of protons to an energy of 1.18 TeV in the early hours of Monday morning.

The energy level exceeds the previous world record of 0.98 TeV, which had been held by the US Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s Tevatron collider since 2001.

It also represents a key step forward for the LHC and shows that progress has been swift since the project re-started earlier this month, after previously being halted due to electrical problems and a major helium leak last year.

In addition, it marks another important milestone on the road to first physics at the LHC in 2010.

The developments come just 10 days after the LHC restart, demonstrating the excellent performance of the machine. First beams were injected into the LHC on 20th November and over the days that followed, the machine’s operators circulated beams around the ring alternately in one direction and then the other at the injection energy of 450 GeV - gradually increasing the beam lifetime to around 10 hours.

Monday 23rd November saw two beams circulated together for the first time, and the four big LHC detectors recorded their first collision data. Last night’s achievement brings further confirmation that the LHC is progressing smoothly towards the objective of first physics early in 2010.

“We are still coming to terms with just how smoothly the LHC commissioning is going,” explained CERN Director General, Rolf Heuer.

“It is fantastic. However, we are continuing to take it step by step, and there is still a lot to do before we start physics in 2010. I’m keeping my champagne on ice until then.”

Next on the schedule is a concentrated commissioning phase aimed at increasing the beam intensity, before delivering good quantities of collision data to the experiments before Christmas. So far, all the LHC commissioning work has been carried out with a low intensity pilot beam. Higher intensity is needed to provide meaningful proton-proton collision rates.

The current commissioning phase aims to make sure that these higher intensities can be safely handled and that stable conditions can be guaranteed for the experiments during collisions. This phase is estimated to take around a week, after which the LHC will be colliding beams for calibration purposes until the end of the year.

First physics at the LHC is scheduled for the first quarter of 2010, at a collision energy of 7 TeV (3.5 TeV per beam).