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Taking the Large Hadron Collider to the Max

These four fixes will double the power of the world's greatest physics machine

4 min read
Taking the Large Hadron Collider to the Max
Sleep No More: The Atlas experiment, dormant for two years, will rumble back to life following several upgrades.
Photo: Claudia Marcelloni De Oliveira

Later this spring,scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, will restart the world’s biggest particle physics experiment, after a hiatus of two years. Beams of protons are scheduled to start circulating through the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in mid-March. Physicists hope to start smashing the protons together and recording data before midyear.

When it restarts, the LHC will be able to smash protons with nearly twice the energy it had before. Even at its previous power level researchers were able to use the LHC to find the Higgs boson. This particle—whose existence was predicted decades ago—explains why some particles have mass. But scientists hope that the higher-energy collisions will reveal some new (if more difficult to explain) discoveries, such as the elusive supersymmetric particles or even possible candidates for dark matter, the mysterious material that binds the universe together.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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