Beam dump

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is one impressive assembly of equipment. According to the IEEE Spectrum, the proton beam circling the LHC ring carries enough energy to melt a 500 kilogram block of copper. The beam lasts only microseconds, but would dump 350 megajoules into whatever it hits.

Because the LHC needs a way to ‘dispose’ of proton beams, they developed a multifaceted system to safely disperse the energy. First the beam is diverted out of the ring, down a straight side-tunnel. During its travel, the beam is unfocused, or scattered, from a 0.2 mm diameter beam to a 1.5 mm beam, reducing its energy density. At the end of the 700 metre tunnel, the protons slam into a beam dump, made of an 8 metre long, 10 tonne graphite cylinder encased in 1000 tonnes of steel and concrete. A final series of magnets play the beam over the end of the graphite cylinder to further disperse the energy.

After some microseconds, the beam is spent and absorbed by the graphite. The energy of the beam raises the temperature of the 10 tonnes of graphite to 750°C. The graphite cools after a few hours and can be reused.

Momentum is energy. The beams are made up of trillions of protons, but protons are so small that a group of a trillion wouldn’t be visible to the naked eye. How can this minuscule amount of matter carry so much energy? It’s all about momentum. The beam is moving at 99.9999991% of the speed of light. The main collider ring is 27 kilometres (17 miles) in circumference, and the proton beam will circle the ring 11,000 times per second. It takes just 90 microseconds (90 millionths of a second) for the beam to travel 27 kilometres.

If I had any doubt that the only thing preventing the development of energy weapons was an easy means to power them, my doubt is certainly gone.

But then, scientists would be in hot pursuit of magnetic shields to deflect the beams.

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One Comment

  1. Jonathan
    Posted November 10, 2008 at 21:42 | Permalink

    “shields up”

    10 ton graphite shields with oven mitts that is.

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