LHC update: it's now all-powerful

By Phil Plait | December 1, 2009 7:24 am

bigpicture_cmsOops! Sorry. I mean "most" powerful. Particle accelerator, that is. On November 30, 2009, it accelerated two beams of protons moving in opposite directions each to an energy of 1.18 TeV – that’s trillion electron volts, well above the previous record of 0.98 TeV. When it’s all ready to go, the LHC will get those beams up to 7 TeV, high enough — we hope — to start doing some serious science, and giving investigators a chance to see how the Universe ticks.

For those who are curious, an energy of 1.18 TeV is about 1.9 ergs, which seems like a ridiculously small energy. An erg is very roughly the amount of kinetic energy a falling raindrop has… but a raindrop has a lot of protons in it. In the case of the LHC, each proton in the beams will have that much energy!

Putting it another way, the speed of the protons moving in the beams when they are juiced up to 7 TeV is 99.999999% of the speed of light. They could travel to the Moon in just over one second. It took the Apollo astronauts more than three days to cover the same distance. The total energy in the beams, as my friend Brian Cox points out, is equivalent to a battleship moving at several miles per hour.

And that’s just before the protons smash together. The collisions will be epic.

So this is yet another milestone on the way to real and cutting-edge science, which is slated to begin in early 2010. Stay tuned!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Science
MORE ABOUT: LHC, protons

Comments (65)

  1. rob

    ergs? Next, Phil will express the beam’s power density in horespower per acre-foot.

  2. chaboyax

    doomed were all doomed i tell ya

  3. gopher65

    rob made me laugh:).

  4. Emperor Palpatine

    Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational LHC!

  5. idlemind

    Apparently, theoretical physicists still use cgs units (thus “erg” as the unit of energy). 1 erg = 1/10,000,000 joules (the SI unit for energy). (One wonders if they still use “barn” as a unit of area.)

  6. Chris

    “They could travel to the Moon in just over one second.”
    True, but much lower energy beams which travel at only 0.99c will still reach the moon in nearly the same time.

  7. Matt

    I for one welcome our new proton-bashing overlords.

  8. His Steveness

    Now witness the power of this fully armed and operational particle accelerator!

  9. I hope there is no antimatter hanging around that proton’s path! Kaboom!

  10. Bigfoot

    Hopefully the collisions will not just be epic , but will be an epoch event!

  11. Regarding the use of the word “power” in the context of the LHC, Cosmic Variance has something fundamental to say. And the plan seems to be to do the first ‘serious science’ already at 3.5 TeV per beam which should be reachable early next year.

  12. Nigel Depledge

    @ Idlemind (4) -

    Looks like.
    http[colon-slash-slash]en[dot]wikipedia[dot]org/wiki/Barn_(unit)

  13. DrFlimmer

    @ idlemind:

    In fact, it depends on the field of physics which units you use. Astronomers still use cgs. Barn is mainly used by particle physicists.
    I wonder, if anyone at all uses SI. This was meant to unify all unit systems (haha). But this attempt failed, as I see it. As usual. Terrible.

    ————————————————————

    [deep voice on] You can’t hide forever, Higgs! [deep voice off]

  14. Gareth

    And as we all know, if a battleship ever moved at several miles per hour, the universe would implode.

    Or something.

  15. Gus Snarp

    Wonder what the electric bill on that thing is.

  16. John Baxter

    In JPL’s early days (one side or the other of the switch from Army Ordnance Corps to NASA), a formal report was written in the Furlong-Stone-Fortnight system. The speed of light is 1.8026175 × 10^12 furlongs per fortnight (trusting Google) which is reasonable–but the stone sort of makes the numbers non-intuitive. (I weigh around 17 3/4 stone–much nicer than my weight in either kg or lbs [248].)

    The author was tired of the various measurement systems he had to deal with (and important enough to get away with it). I have no idea whether the report is still in the files. (Mother was using her PhD at JPL–and was not the report author.)

    As to the real part of the story (the units have captured the comments): wow!

  17. David D.

    Hopefully, they will be a bit more “cutting edge scientific” than those clowns at Hadley CRU.

  18. Kevin

    All hail the All Powerful LHC!!!

    We bow before you, oh Master! Command Us!

  19. I love driving in Canada because I can drive 110kph versus 68mph. I can drive 966 kilometers in one day versus 600 miles. Its all relative.

  20. Reverend J

    I forget the math (many year removed from my Quantum Physics class), but what would be the mass of the proton at that speed?

  21. Beasjt

    So if it all works out we will be able to hear what there was before the big bang. Something like “uh ooh…”

  22. Shoeshine Boy

    Phil, Thanks for relating the energies and speeds to something that I can understand. Personally, I have trouble wrapping my mind aroung TeVs and ergs.

  23. bigjohn756

    But, what about all of the black holes? You forgot to mention the black holes, Phil. Now, those are really going to be epic! I can hardly wait!

  24. Bill Nettles

    1.9 ergs/proton is equivalent to a gas temp of over 9,000,000,000,000,000 K. 9 PK.

    LHC is HOT! (Go write that on your bathroom wall.)

  25. JG

    I wonder if it goes to 11.

  26. Tim

    How many gigawatts is this? Are we in danger of sending the proton back to the future?

  27. Kurt_eh

    #22, Beasjt:

    I thought the quote was “Hold my beer and watch this!” ;)

  28. Cheyenne

    @JG- It does go to 11. It goes 1 louder than all the others.

  29. Ken

    Reverend J @22: With v/c = 0.99999999, gamma is 7071, so the the proton’s mass as measured in our frame is 7071 times its rest mass.

    As Chris @7 noted, rest-frame travel times don’t really separate 0.99c from 0.99999999c. I find subjective time is a helpful metric here. At 0.99c, gamma is 7.08, and a trip to Alpha Centauri takes around 7.5 subjective months. At a gamma of 7071, the trip takes only six hours, and you could cross the galaxy in 14 years.

  30. rob

    insert joke about hitting the broadside of a barn…

  31. Ray

    So exactly how powerful is the beam? Would it go thru something like steel?

  32. Adrian Lopez

    So… is the Earth still here?

  33. Caleb

    @rob

    Insert joke (paradox) about proton beam traveling through barn while barn doors are simultaneously closed. :-)

  34. Douglas Troy

    Status update on the Earth since this latest LHC test:

    http://hasthelargehadroncolliderdestroyedtheworldyet.com/

  35. 32. Ray Says: “So exactly how powerful is the beam? Would it go thru something like steel?”

    With or without leaving a hole?

    Suddenly I have visions of Exeter’s neutrino beam in Meacham’s lab.

    - Jack

  36. death by stupidity

    Jack powerful enough to leave indeed a hole, black.

  37. My favorite FSF unit is the barn megaparsec, a unit of volume approximately equal to 5/8 of a teaspoon, but unable to contain any actual normal matter due to its elongated shape.

  38. eyesoars

    But battleships move in knots. Miles per hour. Sheesh. When’s the last time you saw one trolling around the countryside?

  39. tiggerbone

    The TeVatron is still cooler. *We* have antimatter! ;)

  40. What are the chances of a proton at those energies traveling to the future and knocking out the saboteur protons that were planning to travel back and destroy the LHC?

  41. Vinit

    When will the proton beams collide??????

  42. Yojimbo

    So, um… a battleship can make black holes?

    Anyway, if they cross the streams won’t it cause total protonic reversal? That’s bad!

  43. Beasjt

    @Yojimbo
    Sort of, yup… Philadelphia Experiment and that sort of thing.

  44. Actually, I did a little math on what the maximum potential energy of the LHC would be like at 7 TeV per beam.

    It’s the equivalent of two ants being flicked at each other at just under two miles an hour. The same 7 TeVs that are supposed to destroy the planet couldn’t even hurt a fly. Literally.

  45. Don Gisselbeck

    The “Oh- My- God” particle had an energy of 3.2±0.9×10^20 electron volts for comparison, about the same as a dropped brick.

  46. Hmmm….I think we need to come up with some new units of energy.

    We already have the erg. I nominate the ARGH to represent the energy that you expend in slapping your forehead when the proton beams just miss colliding with each other.

    Any others?

  47. DrFlimmer

    @ tiggerbone

    Oh, come on. Antimatter is so outdated, so uncool. The tunnel of the LHC used to house the LEP before. The Large Electron Positron Collider. So, Cern is already beyond antimatter. Tevatron is so lame.
    :D

    In order someone doesn’t get it: This is meant as a joke! So, please start to giggle!

  48. Crux Australis

    “Don’t let the proton streams cross!”

  49. Crux Australis

    I say that anytime I’m peeing beside my two sons. :-)

  50. @Reverend J,

    Is it Quantum Physics or relativity? I believe for relativity, the equation is:

    M1 = M2 / SquareRoot(1 – (V/C)^2)

    Where M1 is the mass from our frame of reference and M2 is the mass from the proton’s. So if the proton is going at 99.999999% of C, then it would be:

    M1 = M2 / SquareRoot(1 – (0.99999999)^2)

    or about 50,000,000 times M2 which is (…quick stop by Google…) 8.3631079 × 10^-20 kilograms.

  51. Sure, the astronauts would get the the Moon a lot faster if they went 99.999999% the speed of light, but stopping in time would be a pain. Literally. (Well, maybe not. It’d probably be over before they even realized what happened.)

  52. tiggerbone

    @DrFlimmer

    You’re just jealous. :-P

  53. Here is a live webcam at CERN that you can monitor!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JYkMhQ9gf8

  54. T.E.L.

    The mass of the proton is invariant; it’s the same no matter how fast it’s moving. The whole relativistic relationship, which incorporates velocity, is E2 = p2c2 + m2c4.

  55. This LHC is even more dangerous than smoking!

  56. Michael

    And remember that there are two beams travelling in opposite direction. The relative speed of two protons colliding is almost twice the speed of light. Nice firecracker!

  57. petrolonfire

    @25. Bill Nettles Says

    LHC is HOT! (Go write that on your bathroom wall.)

    No fear – she might see it! ;-)

    @ 58. sascha/hdrs Says:

    This LHC is even more dangerous than smoking!

    Well that may depend on *what* it is you’re smoking! ;-)

    @ 39. eyesoars Says:

    But battleships move in knots. Miles per hour. Sheesh. When’s the last time you saw one trolling around the countryside?

    Last Wednesday. ;-)
    But then see above about smoking! ;-)

    Actually there is the space-battleship Yamato / Argo from StarBlazers although it flew in space and generally is above land … ;-)

    See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SpaceBattleshipYamato.jpg

    & http://www.starblazers.com/home.php

    Actually from the look of one of the pictures there the Yamato /Argo is armed with something like the LHC in its bow. 8)

  58. Razmus

    > I hope there is no antimatter hanging around that proton’s path! Kaboom!

    Wouldn’t the resulting quanta of energy simply produce another particle? Like maybe another proton with an equivalent energy? (Or maybe they’d get lucky and get some other more exotic particle.) Wasn’t that the point? It would be, like, a bonus if someone got an image of that. (Do they still USE bubble chambers for that?)

  59. CoolHandl

    John Baxter: Thanks! Way back when in my AP Physics class we had a running joke about c in furlongs/fortnight, because the teacher liked to give problems in mixed units. I always wondered where that came from. Of course, now I wonder how a bunch of high school geeks heard about it in the late 70s.

    Re astronauts traveling to the moon at 99.999999% of c (Tau-7071), they’d better be able to stop! If I did the math right, a 60kg astronaut (sans spacecraft and space suit) hitting the moon at that speed has a KE of 3.8E+22 J, or around 9 million megatons. Goodbye moon, and not so good for the earth, either!

    Ain’t relativity cool!

  60. Blizno

    “60. Michael Says:
    December 2nd, 2009 at 8:29 am

    And remember that there are two beams travelling in opposite direction. The relative speed of two protons colliding is almost twice the speed of light. Nice firecracker!”

    It can’t be. The speed of one object relative to any other can never exceed the speed of light.
    The relative speed of the two protons is closer to the speed of light than the speed of one of the protons relative to, say, Geneva but it’s still less than c.

  61. Rob Ca4yi

    “64. Blizno Says:

    It can’t be. The speed of one object relative to any other can never exceed the speed of light.
    The relative speed of the two protons is closer to the speed of light than the speed of one of the protons relative to, say, Geneva but it’s still less than c.”

    Oh Metaphysical/Astrophysical Guru: care to explain why the speed of light cannot be exceeded?

    Clearly it can as witnessed in view of a black hole… or maybe there is more to the picture than current physics can explain..

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