A massive next-generation particle smashing device is proposed to haunt the dark universe

A massive next-generation particle smashing device is proposed to haunt the dark universe

In early February, CERN’s limited board held a special meeting to discuss an important item in its future: the next particle accelerator they would build. CERN is home to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s most complex device. The proposed design for the international collaboration’s next generation particle smasher is the Future Circular Collider (FCC), three times the length of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The LHC is an extraordinary instrument. It has a 27-kilometre-long (16.77-mile) ring of superconducting magnets deep within the city of Geneva, on the border between France and Switzerland. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) works thanks to superconducting magnets kept just above absolute zero, surrounding two giant tubes kept in an ultra-high vacuum. It’s colder and emptier there than in interstellar space.

Through the tubes, beams of protons (or sometimes heavy ions) travel at nearly the speed of light and collide within one of four experiments. The collisions create conditions not seen in the universe since shortly after the Big Bang, and a whole host of interesting particles are created. The most important achievement was the discovery of the Higgs boson, the particle that (simplistically) gives mass to all other particles.

However, the LHC is limited. There are energies that cannot be achieved using such a machine, and for this reason, the researchers were thinking about the next step. A few years ago, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) began investigating the proposal for the next particle accelerator, and the design agreed upon after consultation between particle physicists across Europe and the world was a larger circular machine: the future circular collider.

The proposed accelerator would be three times the length of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at 90 kilometers (56 miles) and would be twice that deep. If approved, construction would begin in the early 2030s, begin smashing electrons in the 2040s, and transition to smashing protons in the 2070s.

The goal will be to explore energies where direct evidence of dark matter and dark energy can be found. These energies are simply beyond the LHC – the protons in its beams cannot be pushed beyond a certain limit. To get around this, one approach is to build a much larger detector. All this for 15 billion Swiss francs, or about 17.2 billion dollars.

But the proposed plan is not without its critics. The project has been described as a gamble because there is no guarantee that it will succeed in providing evidence of the elusive dark matter and dark energy, which the Large Hadron Collider has not yet been able to obtain. The same could have been discussed about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Of course, the discovery of this particle is not the only success of the LHC. In its first 10 years of operation, nearly 3,000 scientific papers were published from its experiments – which had an enormous impact on our understanding of particle physics.

Some scientists, policymakers and the media also described the cost of the proposed facilities as a waste of money, rather than an investment in the construction and manufacturing industries of all countries that form part of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). CERN is also the birthplace of the World Wide Web, so you’re only reading this thanks to an investment in the organization.

Another criticism is that the money should be spent on environmental projects to mitigate the climate crisis. Far from the mistaken assumption that the two are mutually exclusive, the EU – which includes many members of the European Organization for Nuclear Research – actually spent nearly 100 times the cost of the proposed plan on fossil fuel subsidies in 2022.

Ultimately, the decision on whether a project is what CERN needs rests with the countries paying for CERN membership. The FCC feasibility study will be completed next year. In 2026, the European Strategy for Particle Physics will be updated, which may affect the plans. If the plans are sound, it could be approved by the FCC in 2028, and a new generation of particle physics could begin.

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