Not long after celebrating a decade of operation, the world's most powerful particle accelerator is powering down for a couple of years to undergo some upgrades. Scientists at CERN have switched off the Large Hadron Collider following its second round of experiments, gearing it up for a third run that will see particles smashed together harder than ever before.
As a 27-km-long (16.7-mi) ring of pipes packed with thousands of powerful magnets and advanced liquid helium cooling system to house its high energy particle beams, the Large Hadron Collider has proven a hotbed for discovery in the world of particle physics. This is spearheaded by its uncovering of the Higgs Boson particle in 2012, and for a full rundown of its achievements you can check out our celebratory coverage of its 10th birthday here. But engineers hope that with a few choice upgrades they can push the boundaries even further.
Its last planned shutdown took place between 2013 and 2015, while a shutdown of the unplanned variety occurred at the hands of a wandering weasel in 2016. Scientists will use the latest downtime to pore through the more than 300 million GB of data collected in the second round of experiments, which they point out is equal to 1,000 years worth of constant video streaming. The engineers, meanwhile, will get to work on some significant upgrades.
"The second run of the LHC has been impressive, as we could deliver well beyond our objectives and expectations, producing five times more data than during the first run, at the unprecedented energy of 13 TeV," says Frédérick Bordry, CERN Director for Accelerators and Technology. "With this second long shutdown starting now, we will prepare the machine for even more collisions at the design energy of 14 TeV."
Among the upgrades are brand new components for the injectors that feed protons into the LHC to form even higher intensity beams, while new shields will be added to the bypass diodes, the electrical parts that protect the magnets from quench (warming beyond a critical point). Meanwhile, more than 20 main superconducting magnets will be replaced and new superconducting technologies will be tested for the first time.
All going to plan, scientists hope to resume operations in early 2021.
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