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Scientists unveil plans for 19-mile-long particle smasher

The blueprints are ready. If it gets funded, the multibillion-dollar International Linear Collider could help solve the mystery of cosmic dark matter.

International Linear Collider
A rendering of the International Linear Collider, which could be build in the Japanese mountains. Rey Hori/KEK

The Large Hadron Collider is a monumentally awesome machine, and has given us tentative confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson, the so-called "God particle." Now scientists hope to follow that with a new accelerator that could explain what makes up 95 percent of the universe.

At three ceremonies around the world Wednesday, researchers hailed blueprints for the International Linear Collider (ILC), a 19-mile-long smasher that might help solve the riddle of dark matter and dark energy, unseen forces with major gravitational effects.

The publication of the five-volume ILC Technical Design Report was marked by events in Tokyo, Geneva, and Chicago.

More than 1,000 scientists are involved in the global project, but funding, which could run to $8 billion or more, as well as a host site, have yet to be secured. Japan is considered the most likely candidate as it lost out to France in its bid to host the prototype fusion reactor ITER in 2005.

The ILC would consist of two linear accelerators that face each other along a 19-mile tunnel. The accelerators would hurl 10 billion electrons and positrons, which are anti-electrons, at nearly the speed of light.

The beams would collide 14,000 times per second at energies of 500 billion-electron-volts, briefly offering a glimpse of heavier particles before they decay and simulating the environment shortly after the Big Bang. Since electrons and positrons would be used, the experiments could provide clearer views on the Higgs field than the LHC.

The Higgs field permeates all space and endows some fundamental particles with mass when they travel through it.

"The discovery of a Higgs boson at the LHC has made the case for the ILC even more compelling," ILC Research Director Sakue Yamada said in a release. "The ILC can study its properties in detail and will thus be a great complementary machine to the already very successful LHC."

Possible sites in Japan, which would have to shoulder half the costs, include the Kitakami area in Iwate Prefecture north of Tokyo and the Seburi area on southern Kyushu Island. Both sites are mountainous.

The ILC would take an estimated 10 years to build, and then operate for 20 years. So if you're around in, say, 2030, check back here for an update on results.

See more images of the ILC in the gallery below.