May 18, 2022

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A particle accelerator is now colder than space to produce 1 million X-ray pulses a second

2 min read

If you thought the coldest place on Earth is Antarctica, well, you just might be wrong about that. One of the coldest places on Earth is actually in Menlo Park, California — or more specifically, 30 feet (9 meters) below it.

An underground superconducting particle accelerator at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has been cooled down to a mind-boggling minus 456 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 271 degrees Celsius or 2 kelvin). That’s just a few degrees above the coldest possible temperature in the universe, absolute zero. The extreme cooling is part of an upgrade to the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray free-electron laser — soon to be dubbed LCLS-II — which can accelerate electrons close to the speed of light. The apparatus is used to study rare chemical events, biological molecules, quantum mechanics and complex materials used in computing (an appropriate purpose, given the accelerator’s location in Silicon Valley).