The Large Hadron Collider at the CERN research facility near Geneva, Switzerland won't be going on a luau in Hawaii anytime soon, since the state is suing to stop the activation of the enormous research project. Yes, it's not just individual wackos who believe the LHC will unleash a cosmic ass-whooping on the planet. An actual state is suing the builders to keep them from activating it. They fear it'll let loose runaway miniature black holes, strangelets, or magnetic monopoles that will destroy the planet. The researchers at CERN have spent their precious time trying to assure people that won't happen, although it would be kind of cool if it did. We've got the strange and winding history of this project in today's Triviagasm.
- The Large Hadron Collider was conceived in the 1980s, and eventually approved by CERN, the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (European Council for Nuclear Research), in 1994.
- Some of the questions the LHC hopes to answer are: What is mass? What is 96% of the universe made of? Why is there no more antimatter? What was matter like within the first second of the Universe's life? Do extra dimensions of space really exist? Are stars just pinholes in the curtain of night? Okay, we stole that last one from Highlander. Sorry.
- The LHC uses the tunnel originally built for the Large Electron-Positron Collider between 1983 and 1988, although it has required massive changes, including the construction of giant underground caverns to hold the large detectors for the system. Construction on those began in 1998.
- The total cost of the LHC is not known yet, but it is estimated to be somewhere between five and ten billion dollars, which is quite a range. They've suffered many overages and setbacks since the project became active, CERN had its operating budget scaled back, and there were inaccuracies during construction.
- In 2005 a technician was killed inside the tunnel when a crane load was accidentally dropped on him. If there's a movie waiting to be written about a ghost in the machine, this is it.
- In March 2007 a pressure test involving several magnets failed, and as a result they had to push the planned startup date from November 2007 to May 2008.
- The circumference of the LHC is 26,659 meters, making it the largest machine in the world. It also qualifies as the largest refrigerator in the world, with over 10,080 tons of liquid nitrogen being used to pre-cool the 9300 magnets to 80 degrees Kelvin. Then they get pumped full of 60 tons of liquid helium to bring them all the way down to 1.9 Kelvin. Just remember to write your name on your lunch.
- When it's operating at full power, protons will zoom around the track at 11,245 times per second at 99.99% of the speed of light. It boggles the mind! Screw collisions, why don't they just shoot for some time traveling?
- Speaking of time travel, the devices inside the LHC can measure the passage time of a particle to accuracies in the region of a few billionths of a second.
- The tunnel has to be kept at a near-complete vacuum so the protons don't run into random gas molecules. As a result, the interior atmosphere of the LHC will be 10 times less pressure than on the surface of the moon.
- While the interior of the tunnels are kept chillier than the vast reaches of deep space, whenever the protons collide they will generate heat up to 100,000 times hotter than the heart of the Sun.
- Each experiment conducted in the LHC will generate enough data to fill 100,000 dual layer DVDs every year, which is a heck of a lot of info. They've built a distributed computing network around the world called the Grid which will process all of this data.
- The LHC could receive an upgrade after ten years, turning it into the Super LHC. This basically involves an extremely expensive upgrade to their Super Proton Synchrotron to increase the luminosity.
- Some of the things that people think might go wrong with the LHC are: Miniature Black Holes - these exist for only fractions of a second and then decay, but naysayers worry that they'll form up into a massive black hole that will start chewing up France. Strangelets - these are hypothetical forms of strange matter that could possibly turn everything they touch into more strangelets, meaning the Earth would become entirely made up of strange matter. We think that's already happened. Magnetic Monopoles - another theoretical particle that only has one magnetic pole, and could cause atoms to change into different types of matter, causing another chain reaction that would overtake the Earth.
- With any luck, everything will be switched on in May, and protons will start slamming into each other this summer. Of course, look for the movie version where Shia LaBeouf runs into the control room, mere milliseconds before startup, fights off the guards, and powers everything down and saves the planet. It'll be out sometime soon.