Nautilus

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

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