The Large Hadron Collider Just Disappointed A Lot Of Physicists

No dice. No new particles, either

Say I’m Inside the Large Hadron Collider and It’s Revving Up. Should I Be Concerned?

Well, it’s never a great idea to stand next to a machine that could create black holes, but the magnets that steer the proton beams around the planet’s most powerful particle accelerator would probably spare you from excess radiation. Then again, there is the off chance that some 300 trillion protons could erupt from the device and kill you on the spot. Even though the LHC’s twin beams will travel in protective isolation through 17-mile-long, two-inch-wide pipes sucked to a near-perfect vacuum, some of those protons—potentially billions—will inevitably wander off the track. When they do, they will slam into the magnets that steer and focus the beam, or hit other hardware, gas molecules or protons. These collisions will generate a mess of secondary radioactive particles, explains Mike Lamont, an LHC machine coordinator, filling the tunnel with a field of radiation roughly equivalent to that of a full-body CT scan. That’s not a dangerous amount of radiation to be exposed to for a few minutes, but longer than that, and you might suffer some cellular damage. (It’s important to note, though, that the security measures in place at the LHC make it virtually impossible to sneak into the tunnel when the beam is on.) If engineers were to lose control of the beam, however, watch out. The beam is only one millimeter wide, yet it contains 320 trillion protons moving just shy of the speed of light. (That gives it about the same momentum as a 400-ton train speeding at 95 mph.) It would plow through the magnets and unleash a fatal cascade of high-energy particles and radiation. And that’s just if you were near a runaway beam. If you stood in its way, it would burn a hole right into you, Lamont says. “A human body wouldn’t stand a chance.” Have an outlandish science question? Send it to fyi@popsci.com.

In its eight years of life, the Large Hadron Collider has produced a jazzy musical score, two knights, a small mammal scandal, and one of the greatest discoveries in our lifetime: the Higgs boson. But this morning, it’s delivering some less exciting news: The signals physicists thought could indicate an undiscovered particle have died out.

CERN delivered the dismal news at the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Chicago. Scientists had hoped that an “energy blip” known as 750 GeV diphoton excess would reveal a particle that wasn’t yet predicted by the Standard Model. But now the particle signals have diminished completely.

With hopes of filling in gaps in our understanding of the Universe, this blip carried a lot of understandable hype. But this finding (or lack thereof) doesn’t mean failure for the LHC. A negative result is still a result, and everyone’s favorite particle accelerator keeps on smashing.

[h/t Gizmodo]