It's safe to say the world's largest atom smasher is big. Very big.
A new video shot by a drone flying over and through the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) provides unique views of the immense particle detector, which is located underground near Geneva in Switzerland. First, satellite images help viewers grapple with the sheer size of the ring-shaped facility, before a drone flies around the particle accelerator and zooms through its innards.
The LHC's ring is 16 miles (27 kilometers) long. The collider uses roughly 9,600 huge, heavy magnets to circulate streams of protons and accelerate them to near the speed of light. These particles are then smashed together to spew out even smaller constituents that can provide glimpses of the building blocks of matter. [See photos of the Large Hadron Collider]
The LHC's largest magnets weigh 35 tons and are about 50 feet (15 meters) long. Together, the magnets contain 10,000 tons of iron — more than in the Eiffel Tower — and can generate a magnetic field 100,000 times more powerful than Earth's.
It’s the enormity of the LHC that allows it to peer at the smallest scales. In 2012, the accelerator famously found evidence of the Higgs boson, the particle that gives all other particles their mass. The boson itself has a mass more than 130 times that of a proton. For comparison, a 10-lb. (4.5 kilograms) bowling ball weighs roughly a billion-billion-billion times more than a proton. To boot, the LHC runs at minus 456 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 271 degrees Celsius). That's just a few degrees colder than outer space and only 3 degrees above absolute zero.
Still, as exciting as the Higgs discovery was, the LHC is designed to run at even more powerful energies than before. Just nine days after the collider first went live in 2008, a faulty electrical connection triggered an explosion. To protect the accelerator from further disaster, scientists decided to run the machine at half power until all 10,000 copper connections could be repaired. For the past two years, scientists have been fixing all of these components, while also performing other upgrades.
When the atom smasher restarts this year, it will be nearly twice as powerful as it was during its first run, which could enable it to search for dark matter or maybe even another Higgs. But until then, people can simply enjoy a bird's-eye tour of the impressive machine.