The Large Hadron Collider
Never before has their been a project with more implications on the world of physics than the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator that runs 570 ft below the Franco-Swiss border. The tunnel that houses the LHC is 17 miles in circumference…this thing is BIG. 1,232 dipole magnets are used to keep the beam on a circular path while 392 quadrupole magnets are used to keep the beams focused. There are also 1,600 superconductive magenets, each weighing 27 tons, all of which are cooled to 1.9 Kelvin (-456.25 Fahrenheit) by 96 tons of liquid helium. For those who didn’t take physics in high school, 0 Kelvin is absolute zero, the lowest possible temperature, where there is no energy or movement of particles whatsoever. The result of all that magnetism and machinery is protons colliding at 99.9999991% of the speed of light. Another physics lesson: Einstein said in his Theory of Relativity that we can never reach the full speed of light (299,792,458 m/sec), so the LHC is going to be shooting protons at the fastest speed they are physically capable of moving at.
Maybe now you are beginning to see how epic this project is. The LHC is the accelerator of all accelerators, colliding protons at the fastest speed and the lowest temperature. If we find out anything about our universe by hitting particles against each other, it WILL be with the LHC. Unfortunately, some dire parts of the LHC recently failed and have halted any progress until the collider is fixed, which we have been told will be no sooner than Septemper 2009.
So what are they hoping to find with such a colossal machine? Oh just a couple of minor things…
—The existence of the Higgs Boson particle, the last particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model of physics. All other particles in the Standard Model have been physically observed except for Higgs Boson, which, when found, will help explain the origins of mass in the universe
— Whether or not electromagnetism, strong nuclear forces and weak nuclear forces are simply different manifestations of one single unifying force as predicted by Grand Unification Theories. Those theories state that at very high energy, the three types of forces prevously mentioned meld into one unifying force.
— Why gravity is so much weaker than the other three types of forces while still acting over massive distances
— Whether or not supersymmetry exists in the universe. It’s really hard to explain so if you’re interested, check out the Wikipedia article on it here.
— What is the nature of dark matter abd dark energy? a.k.a. explanation of anti-matter.
— Are there extra dimensions that we do not know about, but that are predicted by String theory? If so, can we detect them?
Obviously there are very high hopes for when the LHC is running at full speed late this year. However, there are also some that fear that the LHC will bring about the destruction of the Earth! There will always be those worryworts… Here are their fears:
1. Micro black holes will be created that will suck up the Earth! Well, in reality, Stephen Hawking has already proved that even if such black holes were created, they would do almost nothing to the environment around them. Due to Hawking Radiation, very small black holes evaporate very quickly compared to larger ones. In addition, micro black holes are so small and so dense that they could pass through larger objects without affecting more than a couple of atoms. Stephen Hawking : 1, Worryworts : 0
2. A hypothetical particle called a strangelet will be created, which will convert the matter of earth into strange matter, thereby eliminating all human life on earth. Sounds pretty insane, but this is actually a more realistic concern than the micro black holes. Although the chances of such a particle being formed have been calculated to be extremely low, there is very little concrete knowledge of strange quarks and other aspects of dark matter (as the LHC is supposed to reveal more about these topics). If current strange matter theory is correct, strangelets are created all the time in space from the interior of stars and such, but decay to their harmless ground states by the time they reach Earth. For the LHC, there has been an instrument installed that is designed to look for evidence of strangelet formation just in case, but chances are slim. Let’s hope for the best!
Other Interesting Facts
- Both the hottest and coolest place in the solar system: The proton collision will produce temperatures 100,000 times hotter than the center of the sun in a very small space. The 1.9 K magnets are the coldest things in the entire galaxy.
- Most empty space in the solar system: To avoid collisions with other molecules, the area where the protons collide will have a pressure 10 times less dense than that on the moon
- The data coming from the LHC would full over 100,000 dual layer DVD’s per year, so the information is going to be processed by thousands of computers from around the world. This network is simply called The Grid. The data is also going to be universally available so anyone can study it.