Friday, March 18, 2016

The LHC Is That Incredible

The Large Hadron Collider produces gamma rays with energies just two orders of magnitude short of those produced by the intense collisions that take place near the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, which has a mass of roughly four million times the mass of the Sun which in turn has roughly 333,000 times the mass of the Earth.
For more than ten years the H.E.S.S. observatory in Namibia, run by an international collaboration of 42 institutions in 12 countries, has been mapping the center of our galaxy in very-high-energy gamma rays. These gamma rays are produced by cosmic rays from the innermost region of the Galaxy. A detailed analysis of the latest H.E.S.S. data reveals for the first time a source of this cosmic radiation at energies never observed before in the Milky Way: the supermassive black hole at the center of the Galaxy, likely to accelerate cosmic rays to energies 100 times larger than those achieved at the largest terrestrial particle accelerator.
While the linked story emphasizes how intense the gamma rays at the in the vicinity of Sagittarius A* at the center of our galaxy are (which is the most energetically intense environment that exists in nature for perhaps millions of light years or more around us), honestly, I would pretty much expect the environment next to such a huge black hole to be incredibly intense.

But, the fact that we have already created conditions 1% as intense already in an Earth based laboratory environment, and could fairly easily scale the existing technology up to be 100 times more powerful for something on the order of tens of billions to hundreds of billions of dollars over a decade or so (not cheap, but a tiny percentage of the world's GDP), is really pretty stunning.

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