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Take a drone tour of an LHC detector

As the Large Hadron Collider gears up to resume experiments, the team at the ALICE detector has released a drone video of the facility.


The folks at CERN are, quite justifiably, proud of their giant particle accelerator, and there are a number of ways to see what's inside the Meyrin, Switzerland facility -- including video tours on YouTube, a virtual tour via the Large Hadron Collider website, and even guided physical tours of the site.

But as the LHC prepares to start up again at the end of March after two years on hiatus for repairs and maintenance before the next round of research, CERN has released a video shot by a drone as it flies over ALICE, one of the LHC's four detectors, and all the way down a cavern shaft 60 feet under the ground.

ALICE, 56 metres below ground, southwest of the 27-kilometre ring of superconducting magnets, is described by CERN as "like an underground telescope aimed at the first instant of the Big Bang".

Its focus is a phase of matter called quark-gluon plasma, thought to have formed shortly after the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe. This matter was a hot, dense mix of particles, all moving at near light-speed, primarily made up of quarks -- the fundamental building blocks of matter -- and gluons, which carry the strong force that binds the quarks into protons and neutrons.

Today, quarks are never seen in isolation -- they are always bound into protons and neutrons. But in the LHC, collisions generate temperatures up to 100,000 times hotter than the core of the sun, which in turn creates conditions similar to those just after the big bang. This allows the protons and neutrons to unbind, separating the quarks and gluons and allowing them to float free, cool and reform -- giving researchers cluse as to how matter originally formed at the beginning of the universe.

Each of the detectors has a different role. ATLAS is a general-purpose detector, which examines the debris of particle collisions to collect information about fundamental particles. CMS is another general-purpose detector, but it uses an enormous solenoid magnet to bend the paths of particles from collisions. The fourth detector, LHCb, studies the slight differences between matter and antimatter by using an array of subdetectors to detect forward particles and catch a type of quark known as "beauty quarks."

The team at CERN is currently testing the beam delivery systems for the impending resumption of experimentation.