LHC 'Big Questions'
6) Are the high energies produced by the LHC dangerous and what happens if something goes wrong?
The LHC does produce very high energies, but these energy levels are restricted to tiny volumes inside the detectors. Many high energy particles, from collisions, are produced every second, but the detectors are designed to track and stop all particles (except neutrinos) as capturing all the energy from collisions is essential to identifying what particles have been produced. Very little of the energy from collisions is able to escape from the detectors.
The main danger from these energy levels is to the LHC machine itself. The beam of particles has the energy of a Eurostar train travelling at full speed and should something happen to destabilise the particle beam there is a real danger that all of that energy will be deflected into the wall of the beam pipe and the magnets of the LHC, causing a great deal of damage. The LHC has several automatic safety systems in place that monitor all the critical parts of the LHC. Should anything unexpected happen (power or magnet failure for example) the beam is automatically ‘dumped’ by being squirted into a blind tunnel where its energy is safely dissipated.
This all happens in milliseconds – the beam, which is travelling at 11,000 circuits of the LHC per second, will complete less than 3 circuits before the dump is complete.
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