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Google Street View Now Lets You Take a Walk Around the Large Hadron Collider

3 minute read

Ever wanted to take a peek inside an underground particle accelerator? Want your favorite British actor to walk you through the origin of the universe? While you can’t stick your head into the Large Hadron Collider, you can now go for a short walk around it — and explore other scientific marvels, thanks to Google’s new online invention exhibition project, part of its Arts & Culture platform. With AR apps, AI-powered image galleries, and first-person views of underground science facilities, you might encounter more than a few surprising origin stories concerning mankind’s most ambitious discoveries.

Robert Lehmann
The CERN Big Bang AR app guides users from the universe's birth to the present day.

The star here is Google’s new Street View-powered tour of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the famous CERN-run particle accelerator. It’s part of Google’s larger Once Upon a Try project cataloging the stories and origins of various objects, inventors, and discoveries. “With over 400 interactive collections, it’s the largest online exhibition about inventions and discoveries ever created,” says Liudmila Kobyakova, Program Manager at Google Cultural Institute.

The ring-shaped LHC is comprised of a series of superconducting magnets — chilled to a brisk −271.25 °C — that accelerate particles destined to smash into each other. It’s part of CERN’s particle accelerator complex housed beneath the France-Switzerland border.

While you won’t be able to walk through the LHC’s entire 27-kilometer ring, the Street View segments available offer glimpses of the most interesting parts of the particle-smashing facility, according to physicist Rolf Landua, head of CERN’s Education Group. In addition to the LHC, CERN’s collection of images and interactive exhibits available on Google’s platform includes Street View looks at other, smaller particle accelerators. “Clearly, our flagship program is the LHC, so we have chosen to show the collider itself, and the four major experiments in the four collision points (ALICE, ATLAS, CMS, LHCb),” says Landua. “In my view, the LHC and the four detectors are masterpieces of engineering.”

The data gathered from the LHC’s high-speed collisions allows physicists to test out various theories concerning the structure of the world and the laws of physics. “ATLAS and CMS can take 40 million ‘snapshots’ of collisions per second, creating a primary data rate of more than 1 Petabyte per second,” says Landua. Most notably, tests conducted in the Large Hadron Collider in 2012 revealed the existence of the subatomic Higgs boson particle. The LHC is currently undergoing an upgrade to improve its likelihood of detecting as-yet-unseen subatomic particles.

For those uninterested in particle physics, you’ll be able to peruse other interactive exhibitions. Google and CERN have also created an augmented reality app (narrated by actor Tilda Swinton) exploring the origins of the universe, starting with the Big Bang. NASA’s Visual Universe, meanwhile, uses Google’s machine learning technology to sort and analyze over 127,000 images from the space agency’s image archives, making it easier to comb through the database.

You can also browse through various collections of digitized artwork, images, and articles about pivotal discoveries and inventors provided by institutions like CERN and The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

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Write to Patrick Lucas Austin at patrick.austin@time.com