TECH

CERN's Next Particle Accelerator Will Be Absolutely Enormous

07/02/2014 10:04 GMT | Updated 07/02/2014 10:59 GMT

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland is big. Really big. Like, 27 kilometres around and you could drive a bus through it big.

Unfortunately, it's not big enough. At least not to match the ambitions of its scientists, who say that in order to truly understand our universe and the fantastic ethereal stuff of its construction, we need to build something even bigger.

"The time has come to look even further ahead," CERN said on Thursday.

Their plan? A new accelerator, seven times as powerful and several times bigger than the LHC, currently named the 'Future Circular Collider'.

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Above: a rough map of the new collider compared to the LHC

The early-stage proposal would be for an accelerator with a circumference of more than 100 kilometres, located in the same area as CERN beneath the French and Swiss Alps.

Of course, it's not like the LHC is due to be retired any time soon. After its first rush of particles resulted in the discovery of the long-theorised Higgs-Boson, it was turned off last year for an 18-month rebuild designed to let it operate at higher energies.

It will soon be turned back on, and has "at least 20 more years of life" according to CERN.

But if the LHC's successor is to be built in time to transition smoothly when 2034 arrives, the planning has to start now.

The idea will be developed alongside another design - an 80-km long straight collider known as the Compact Linear Collider. The two studies will produce their initial results in 2018, when a winner will be selected.

"Such an accelerator would allow particle physics to push back the boundaries of knowledge even further," said CERN in a statement ahead of a meeting in Geneva to start the five-year feasibility studies.

AFP quoted CERN spokesperson Arnaud Marsollier that there was "no way" to know how much a successor to the $5.6 billion LHC would cost. Just assume "lots".