RHIC by the Numbers
Our atom smasher — the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) — is a pretty stunning feat of engineering.
- These tubes run around the 2.4 mile circumference of the collider, which is big enough to be seen from space.
- They are made up of 1740 superconducting magnets, strung end-to-end.
- To make RHIC’s magnets carry electricity without resistance, they are cooled by liquid helium to -452 degrees Fahrenheit, nearly absolute zero.
- In all, RHIC contains 25 tons of helium, enough to fill all the balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the next 400 years!
- The magnetic field within the tubes acts on the beams of charged particles to steer them around the circle and into collision with one another thousands of times per second.
- The particle beams are made up of 111 separate bunches, each containing billions of ions.
- Those ions travel at 99.5% the speed of light, making 80,000 trips around the ring every second.
- The temperature inside a collision reaches four trillion degrees Celsius — that’s 250,000 times hotter than the center of the sun!
- RHIC collisions pack so much energy into a such a small space, it’d be like stuffing all the energy used in the U.S. in one year into a cube with sides measuring just one quarter of the width of a human hair.
All of this comes together so that this experiment can cast an eye on the conditions of the universe as it existed 13.7 billion years ago. Wowza!