CERN approves plans for a $23 billion, 62-mile long super-collider

The aim is to learn more about the elusive Higgs Boson particle.

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MEYRIN, SWITZERLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: A part of the 14.000 tone CMS detector is seen during the Open Days at the CERN particle physics research facility on September 14, 2019 in Meyrin, Switzerland. The 27km-long Large Hadron Collider is currently shut down for maintenance, which has created an opportunity to offer access to the public. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is the world's largest laboratory for research into particle physics. (Photo by Ronald Patrick/Getty Images)
Ronald Patrick via Getty Images

CERN has approved plans to build a $23 billion super-collider 100 km in circumference (62 miles) that would make the current 27 km 16 teraelectron volt (TeV) Large Hadron Collider (LHC) look tiny in comparison. The so-called Future Circular Collider (FCC) would smash particles together with over 100 TeV of energy to create many more of the elusive Higgs bosons first detected by CERN in 2012. This “Higgs factory” would be key to helping physicists learn more about dark matter and other mysteries of the Standard Model of physics.

“Such a machine would produce copious amounts of Higgs bosons in a very clean environment, would make dramatic progress in mapping the diverse interactions of the Higgs boson with other particles and [allow] measurements of extremely high precision,” the CERN council wrote in a press release.

In a new development strategy paper, CERN emphasized that its current priority is to complete a “high-luminosity” upgrade of the current LHC with high-field superconducting NbSn magnets. This would create many times more collisions than the LHC can now, boosting the chances of seeing Higgs bosons and other rare particles.

The future collider would be built in two stages. The first iteration would smash electrons and positrons together to maximize production of Higgs bosons so that scientists can get more accurate data on the particles. The second version would be a 100 TeV proton-proton collider designed to generate new particles that could expand on or even replace the Standard Model.

The aim is to start construction of the new tunnel by 2038, but there’s one massive hurdle: money. The new project is so expensive that CERN will need to seek funding outside its EU member state nations. Instead, it might need to create a global organization that includes the US, China and Japan.

It could be a hard sell, especially as the new collider wouldn’t have as clear a goal as the LHC did. However, particle physics and the Standard Model are at a place where the application of science is needed to validate theories. “We do know that the only way to find answers is by experiment and the only place to find them is where we haven’t been able to look yet,” UK physicist Tara Shears told Nature.

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