Monday, July 21, 2008

Large Hadron Collider: Colder Than Deep Space


Everyone's favorite particle smasher, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has almost reached 1.9 Kelvin (-465F), colder than deep space. Never before has a physics experiment so enormous and complex been operated at such extremely low temperatures.

It contains 7,000 magnets that will be maintained at colder than space temperatures using liquid helium, in order to make them superconducting. The magnets are arranged in a ring that runs through the underground tunnel.

Cooling the Collider is a process that takes a couple of weeks, and that's only if everything goes as planned. If a sector has to be brought back up to room temperature for inspection and repairs and then recooled, the project is setback for months. Of the LHC's eight sectors, six are at temperatures between 4.5 and 1.9 kelvin.

To put perspective on just how frigid these temperatures are, desolate regions of outer space are about 2.7 Kelvin. Two sectors are not cold enough to undergo electrical testing, and so their cooling equipment will be moved to an area that offers better protecttion against super fast colliding particles.

Spanning the border between Switzerland and France at about 100 m underground, the machine will mimick the conditions right after the Big Bang, when an extremely hot and dense universe underwent some cosmic explosion that created space and time as we know it today.

When up and running the LHC will excite clusters of protons to record-breaking high energies, and then smash them into each other 30 million times a second.

Among the particle debris left over from these collisions, scientists hope to find the Higgs boson ( you know, the "god particle"), and the particle that makes up the identity of dark matter.

3 comments:

  1. Yes it is impressive and will keep physicists busy for years discovering exciting new science.

    But... have safety arguments been verified before collisions begin?

    Do you know what you get when you mix high energy colliders with Professor Otto Rossler's charged micro black hole theory?

    Answer: In 50 years or less you might get a golf ball

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  2. Yes, there have recently been papers published that show that the LHC is safe.

    But for me the strongest argument for the safety of the LHC is the fact that cosmic rays (often very fast moving protons) strike the moon with much more energy than the colliding protons in the LHC will have.

    The moon hasn't yet been swallowed up by a black hole, and it's been exposed to high energy protons for four billion years.

    We're at least as safe as the moon is, so I'm pretty comfortable with our odds of surviving the LHC.

    -Buzz

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  3. Hello Buzz,

    You are in good company with that argument. Dr. Steven Hawking and Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson have repeated that debunked safety argument to the media and CERN's public safety web site still uses that safety argument.

    But there is a problem, the argument is wrong. According to CERN's 2008 LHC Safety Report, if stable neutral micro black holes are created by impacts from cosmic rays, they would travel through the planet at very nearly the speed of light. None would be captured.

    The same safety report makes other safety arguments with cosmic rays and neutron stars, but those arguments are called "unverified" by CERN's Scientific Policy Committee that approved the report by a 4 to 5 majority.

    (Peer review is expected to argue that immense magnetic fields around neutron stars may protect from charged cosmic rays and neutrinos may pass through neutron stars).

    Sorry to bust your bubble of assured safety, but when Evil Knievel tells you the jump is perfectly safe, you might want to get a second opinion, perhaps a third or forth.

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