As the world's biggest particle accelerator prepares to crank up its proton beams, Nature rounds up the big numbers behind the mother of all atom smashers.

  • 27 kilometres = circumference of the LHC.

  • 50 kilometres per hour = speed limit for physicists on site.

The LHC: an endless source of superlatives ... Credit: CERN
  • 32 minutes = time taken by a law-abiding physicist to circle the ring.

  • ~1 billion kilometres per hour (99.9999991% the speed of light) = maximum proton speed around the ring.

  • One ten-thousandth of a second = time taken by proton to circle the ring.

  • 0.00000000047 grams = total mass of protons circulating in the LHC at any time.

  • 362 megajoules = collective energy of LHC's protons at top speed.

The USS Ronald Reagan: certainly hefty, but not quite as energetic as the LHC's protons. Credit: US Navy
  • 88,000 tonnes = total weight of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

  • 361 megajoules = energy of the USS Ronald Regan when cruising at 5.6 knots.

  • US$4.1 billion = cost of building the LHC.

  • US$4.5 billion = cost of the USS Ronald Regan.

  • ~9,000 cubic metres = total volume of the LHC's major vacuum systems.

  • 4,650 cubic metres = interior volume of the Big Ben clock tower at Westminster.

  • 14 years = time taken to build LHC.

  • 13 years = time taken to build Big Ben.

The clock tower at the Palace of Westminster: big, but only half the size of the LHC's tubes. Credit: punchstock
  • ~6 million = number of DVDs needed to hold all of the data generated by the LHC.

  • 6.9 kilometres = height of 4 million DVDs stacked on top of each other.

  • 4.8 kilometres = height of Mount Blanc.

  • 0.75 grams = amount of hydrogen needed to fill a party balloon.

  • 0.000000002 grams = amount of hydrogen consumed each day by the LHC.

  • ~1 million years = time needed for the LHC to use one party balloon's worth of hydrogen.

  • 10-13 atmospheres = vacuum of the LHC's beamline.

  • 10-12 atmospheres = atmospheric pressure on the Moon.

  • 8.3 tesla = top field strength of each of the LHC's 1232 superconducting dipole magnets.

  • 1 tesla = strength of a typical scrapyard electromagnet.

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Credit: punchstock
Credit: Exploratorium