The Large Hadron Collider is the largest machine ever built, and scientists have used it to uncover all manner of secrets about the universe. But for all the time and energy that scientists have put into the LHC, plenty of the universe’s secrets are still eluding us. So CERN, the organization that runs the LHC, is planning to build a new particle accelerator that’s even bigger.
The proposed accelerator has been given the name Future Circular Collider, and if it ever gets built it will dwarf the already gigantic LHC. The FCC is a gigantic ring more than 60 miles in circumference, around four larger than the LHC. When it’s completed—again, assuming it gets built—it will be able to produce collisions ten times more powerful than in the LHC.
The new collider was proposed as part of the ongoing discussion surrounding the course of European particle physics in upcoming decades. This month, the scientists behind the FCC released a conceptual design report highlighting the goals of the collider and the process to build it.
According to the report, development of the FCC will happen in three stages. The first stage will see the FCC collide electrons with positrons, the antimatter electron counterpart. Electrons and positrons are very small and light, so they’re much easier for the FCC to accelerate and collide. These lightweight particles will still generate some useful science, but mostly they’ll be a way to test the capabilities of the collider.
After that, run proves successful, the second phase will introduce protons to the mix. These are the particles that the FCC wants to end up with, but in the second phase it will only collide protons with electrons. The third and final phase is when the FCC moves to proton-proton collisions, which is where the real scientific discoveries are going to be made.
It’s impossible to say for sure what these discoveries are going to be, but scientists are hoping the collider will discover inconsistencies in the Standard Model of particle physics, or perhaps discover brand new particles not predicted by the theory. A breakthrough like that could help scientists uncover all new theories of physics and revolutionize our understanding of the cosmos.
Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a long time for that to happen. The FCC still has to be approved, and once that happens construction could take years. If everything goes according to plan, the accelerator will begin proton-proton collisions by 2050, and it could take years after that to make a big discovery. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait.