Large Hadron Collider
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The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a kick-ass piece of scientific machinery designed to replicate conditions immediately after the Big Bang and also to search for other dimensions (as predicted by string theory), probe the existence of dark matter and search for the elusive Higgs boson particle (now found), which gives matter mass. Guess what? It collides hadrons. And it's pretty damn large.
There are also other smaller projects to be conducted along with the main research. The LHC is located at the CERN facilty and is contained within a 27-kilometre-long (16.7 miles) tunnel that straddles the border between France and Switzerland. The Large Hadron Collider is the most complex scientific instrument ever built and the most powerful energy particle accelerator in the world.
While highly anticipated by many people, it has been fraught with delays and budget problems, exceeding $6 billion in construction costs. All of these have served to make it a major lightning rod for all the various anti-science factions. It has been attacked by everyone from the extremists, such as religious fundamentalist and Illuminati conspiracy theorists, to the mundane, with criticism of its costs, purpose, and hilarious vulnerability to birds. It was turned on for the first time in September 2008; however, it suffered a major fault just 9 days later. It restarted again in late November 2009, and has operated flawlessly ever since.
With the small exception of having been brought to its knees by a rogue weasel in April of 2016.
This is all very interesting, but how does it work?
“”Recreating the Big Bang: the most extreme historical re-enactment society ever.
|—BBC: Armando Ianucci's Charm Offensive|
Particles enter the LHC through a series of small particle accelerators (in a ring shape), each one pushing them closer and closer to the speed of light until they are released into the larger LHC ring. Some of the accelerators inject particles moving clockwise, others inject counterclockwise particles. When these opposing particle streams collide, they release enormous amounts of energy. This energy is recorded by four giant detectors: ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment), CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid), ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus), and LHCb (Large Hadron Collider beauty). All this data is processed using a new system of computing called "The Grid." The Grid consists of 80,000 computers in 50 countries, all designed to number-crunch the huge amounts of data the LHC is expected to produce, which amounts to 15,000 terabytes (or 15 petabytes) per annum.
Fear, uncertainty and doubt
“”Anyone who thinks the Large Hadron Collider will destroy the world is a twat.
The lead-up to the switch-on was a cause for concern among people who didn't know all the physics.
Some were worried that it would create a black hole and destroy the Earth. The black hole problem is potentially real, but cosmic rays that are more energetic than those produced by CERN regularly bombard Earth without ill effect. And just like all other matter, a black hole's gravitational force is proportional to its mass, meaning that a microscopic black hole would not be able to somehow consume Earth or even consume a grain of sand.
Additionally, the smallest black holes, such as those the LHC would allegedly create, have absurdly small theoretical lifespans: they would shrink to nothing via emission of Hawking radiation in tiny fractions of a second, as black holes have temperature inversely proportional to their mass. Others (who'd probably been
watching too much Stargate playing too much Half-Life) posited an alien invasion via an LHC-created wormhole.
Another fear was that the entire Universe would undergo Total Existence Failure, although this is "infinitely" improbable. and according to one Walter L. Wagner, a high school teacher from Hawaii, the LHC had a 50% chance to destroy the Earth: either it would, or it wouldn't.
A further possibility put forward was that the Universe would vanish, to be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There are some, however, who think that this has already happened. The popularity of the TV series Ancient Aliens is potential evidence of this.
- Has the Large Hadron Collider destroyed the world yet?
- 30 other days when the world didn't end
- Multimedia gallery at the CERN website
- Welcome to the Large Hadron Collider (A sensible site)
- If you prefer your High-Energy Physics lessons sung to you in rap form, you may find the Large Hadron Supercollider Rap not only educational, but also entertaining.
- Physicist Brian Cox explains the what and why of the LHC in layman's language.
- What the LHC is really for.
- LHC 2008, CERN
- Baguette Dropped From Bird's Beak Shuts Down The Large Hadron Collider (Really), Popular Science
- Q&A: Large Hadron Collider repairs, BBC
- BBC — "Large Hadron Collider: Weasel causes shutdown"
- Guide to the Large Hadron Collider, BBC
- 'The Grid' will see 80,000 computer network processing data from LHC, The Telegraph
- The safety of the LHC, CERN
- Luckily, if such a thing had ever occurred, we would be well prepared with crowbars (HEV suit sold separately).
- Big Bang experiment gets under way, ITN
- "Are we all going to die next Wednesday?" No, Daily Mail! We didn't die that Wednesday, and we also missed out on the 2012 apocalypse, so we'll have wait for some other End of the World scare.
- On the other hand, it is equally possible that the Total Existence Failure did in fact occur, and nobody noticed.
- Large Hadron Collider, The Daily Show
- By this guy
- This other guy
- CERN to switch to Comic Sans (In response to the outcry.)