How cool is the LHC?

By Phil Plait | July 22, 2008 9:58 am

I mean, literally: how cool is the Large Hadron Collider?

Now you can find out. The LHC page has a map showing the temperatures of various aspects of the giant collider. As I write this, sectors 7-8 and 8-1 are the warmest at a balmy 20 – 60. But that’s not Fahrenheit, or even Celsius: it’s Kelvin, baby, and that’s cold. 60 Kelvin is -213 Celsius, and -350 F. Yikes.

Temperature map of the Large Hadron Collider

But it’ll get colder still. Soon the whole ring will be chilled to operating temperatures, and then away we go, smacking protons together at a whisper slower than light itself. What new physics will they find?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Science

Comments (40)

  1. Now that’s even colder that a winter’s day in Tuktoyaktuk!

  2. john.o.kerr

    Wow, when I read that it was Kelvin I audibly said “Damn”.

    How do they go about making the sections so cool?

    That’s some awesome stuff.

  3. Sparticles On The Run!!!


  4. madge

    So that’s 60 degrees Celsius warmer than ABSOLUTE ZERO! and getting colder. That is so….what is the word I am looking for here?…….COOL! LHC is just the most exciting experiment. I can’t wait for the full power up. Yes Brits I am still waiting to confirm the date of the Big Bang Night on BBC4. I will post here when I know anything definite.

  5. inertially guided

    There was an excellent program on Science Channel the other night (The Big Bang Machine). No bubblehead MCs, just researchers from CERN and the LHC giving tours of the facility, summing-up where we stand on the quest for Bosons and other assorted (predicted) particles, intelligent discriptions of “what we’re trying to do”, and so on.

    I’m a believer! Let’s bash some protons together and see what happens!

  6. Trebuchet

    Those shades of blue are really hard for me to distinguish. Especially between the two darker ones, and between the two lighter ones. I wish they’d selected better colors.

    But it’s still really cool!

  7. 7 days until Earth is trransformed to strrangelets and COUNTing…


  8. John Keller

    some part are at 2K

  9. bsander

    That thing is SO awesome. I just finished listening to the LHC podcasts and can’t wait till they fire it up, though it’ll still take a while before we get some results..

  10. David W

    Tuktoyaktuk? Is that the Ice Road Truckers town?

  11. And I thought I was cold before reading that. Brrrrrrrrrrrr.

  12. @David W. It is! It’s on the shore of the Arctic Ocean in the Northwest territories. I crossed the Mackenzie River a number of years ago on that road, on my way to Yellowknife. To say it’s a little un nerving to drive across an ice bridge, with fast moving water underneath you, is an understatement!

  13. elgarak

    They want to get the whole 27 km down to 1.9 K!

    That’s COOL!


    Damn it, science is cool.

  14. Xerxes

    To put that into context: 60K is colder than winter on Titan but warmer than summer on Pluto. (Actually, I guess it’s perhelion on Pluto. What do you call it when the seasons on a planet dominated by eccentricity rather than axial tilt?)

  15. first, the freezing us to 0K..then they are building secret weapons/mini black holes.
    this is major conspiracy!


    no, this is cool

  16. Can anyone explain to me why it’s necessary to cool to these temperatures? Come on, help a high school graduate out ūüėČ

  17. Cheyenne

    Brando – The magnets super conduct at that temperature. They need very, very powerful magnets to keep the beams in the collider ring. Basically, if you make them (very, very, very) cold you make them more efficient and powerful.

    Just an extraordinary machine. I can’t wait to see what kind of data they get.

  18. LifelessDead

    @john.o.kerr: relatively simple, according to Lynn Evans in an interview with Brian Cox (, first refrigeration and then lower the pressure. But if you want to go even colder it would get really hard (laser traps and those sorts of things).

    @Brando: like Cheyenne mentioned, but the cooling medium is helium and at that temperature it becomes ‘super fluidic helium’. Which can flow without friction and has an amazing heat capacity, that way you can use more extreme (lower temperature) super conducting materials that can sustain much large currents, which will generate a much stronger magnetic field. (Actually, there was a design flaw in the magnet supports, when they turned the first one on somewhere last year it almost collapsed under it’s own force. That caused a few months worth of delays)

  19. Simon C.

    “Approximately 96 tonnes of liquid helium is needed to keep the magnets at the operating temperature, making the LHC the largest cryogenic facility in the world at liquid helium temperature[8].” – Wikipedia, LHC

    Since they probably are type II superconductors, they need to be at a temperature below 20K in order to perfectly conduct. Making it colder doesn’t necesseraly mean it’s getting more powerful, but it helps a lot in keeping it cold. And keeping low temperatures always help in order to get a good vacuum. Although I don’t think it matters so much in this experience.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Oh, and the LHC is definitely getting cooler with time! I can’t wait for them to click on the start button. (Will it be Brian?)

  20. I can officially no longer complain about how cold it got this winter in Michigan, when Science! has chilled an area the size of my hometown to near absolute zero.

  21. hambr

    When are they going to start conducting experiments? I’m sure the date is out there, but I am too lazy to find it.

  22. Brando, I’m also a layman, do you know what superconductors are? Essentially if you get them really really cold then there is no resistance at all. Which is pretty handy when dealing with the amount of power the LHC is using.

    And I had a question that has probably been covered a long time ago. People who don’t pay attention to this stuff are still talking about the LHC creating black holes. I’m not worried that its going to, I just wonder where this idea came from? Was it just some non-scientist who’s scared of the thing and knows that people are afraid of black holes or are there some physicists who have these concerns?

  23. hambr


    From what I have read the LHC may create microscopic black holes, but according to the theory’s that are out there they will evaporate instantly. Since the collisions will be so powerful, it might condense matter past the limit and create very small black holes. I’m no physicist, but this is what I have found. I am sure some someone who reads this blog can explain much better than myself. By the way, huge Vonnegut fan.

  24. You might also find it interesting to learn how to go about entering and exiting the LHC. Cool security features!

  25. Thanks for the insight, folks. I assumed it had to do with superconductivity, but wasn’t 100% sure.

  26. In a sort of tongue-in-cheek turned honest curiosity, what’s the LHC’s carbon footprint?

    (seeing how it’s probably powered by the French atomic power grid…)

  27. quasidog

    Awesome. Is there anywhere that is going to have a live podcast or something similar of the initial test ? Are you going to be especially monitoring it somehow BA, in a live chat or something ? Or of not, is there a place you know of that I can? Where can I keep track of the hadron “smash ’em up” derby ?

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

    Answer: a golf ball

  29. DaveS

    Man, that guy on “The Big Bang Machine” sure sounded like he knew what he was talking about, but he sure looked more like a rock start than a physicist.

    (Just kidding.)

  30. What happens if the get the LHC down to almost absolute zero? Do we get a a runaway freezing effect that will freeze this whole planet like a popsicle that will give the aliens, when they turn up in a million years or next week, a fairly decent old artefact to play with?


    Actually it made me think, where is the coldest place in the universe? I know that the ambient temperature of the universe is about 3 Kelvin but it turns out that the coldest temperature achieved was by some researchers in Helsinki where they got the temperature down to a frackteenth above absolute zero.

    The coldest naturally occurring place is the Boomerang Nebula where the temperature is supposed to be around 1 Kelvin. Pack an extra sweater for that one.

  31. madge

    That “Guy” on the Big Bang Machine was Dr Brian (swoon) Cox. (and yes he was a rock star) We are still waiting for the programme to air over here. The CERN podcasts (especially Phil’s) are really interesting.

  32. DaveS

    Yeah, I know who Brian Cox is–he’s the Antichrist, of course, smoothing the public perception of that Large Armageddon Collider.

    Just kidding, and please believe me this time.

  33. Buckaroo Banzai would approve of the LHC, and he’s a scientist and a literal rockster and an international vigilante of justice. Us mere mortals cannot ignore awesome of this magnitude, so therefore the LHC is obviously a brilliantly awesome idea. ūüėČ

  34. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I’m no physicist, but this is what I have found. I am sure some someone who reads this blog can explain much better than myself.

    No, that is essentially correct. The thing is that AFAIU according to current physics there will be no black holes at all, but in some hopeful variants of string theory there might. (So it will be a means of testing it.)

    So the way to bet your money is AFAIU there will be no black holes. But there will be exciting physics anyway, for example most assuredly detection of Higgs particles (so completing the current standard theory of particle physics with a large missing piece) and perhaps evidence of so called supersymmetry (so pointing to the next, deeper theory that can incorporate gravity).

    [Disclaimer: I’m no particle physicist either.]

  35. John Phillips, FCD

    @Brando: plus, at the low temperatures they are working on the magnets need far less current to generate the required magnetic fields. Without very low temperature superconders the amount of current required would be astronomical :) For a brief look at the amount of power they expect to use have a look here:

    It seems that everything about this experiment is simply mind blowing, a hyper WOW!


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