New SMOG on the horizon

8 May 2020

A report from the LHCb experiment

Figure 1

LHCb will soon become the first LHC experiment able to run simultaneously with two separate interaction regions. As part of the ongoing major upgrade of the LHCb detector, the new SMOG2 fixed‑target system will be installed in long shutdown 2. SMOG2 will replace the previous System for Measuring the Overlap with Gas (SMOG), which injected noble gases into the vacuum vessel of LHCb’s vertex detector (VELO) at a low rate with the initial goal of calibrating luminosity measurements. The new system has several advantages, including the ability to reach effective area densities (and thus luminosities) up to two orders of magnitude higher for the same injected gas flux.

SMOG2 is a gas target confined within a 20 cm‑long aluminium storage cell that is mounted at the upstream edge of the VELO, 30 cm from the main interaction point, and coaxial with the LHC beam (figure 1). The storage‑cell technology allows a very limited amount of gas to be injected in a well defined volume within the LHC beam pipe, keeping the gas pressure and density profile under precise control, and ensuring that the beam‑pipe vacuum level stays at least two orders of magnitude below the upper threshold set by the LHC. With beam‑gas interactions occurring at roughly 4% of the proton–proton collision rate at LHCb, the lifetime of the beam will be essentially unaffected. The cell is made of two halves, attached to the VELO with an alignment precision of 200 μm. Like the VELO halves, they can be opened for safety during LHC beam injection and tuning, and closed for data‑taking. The cell is sufficiently narrow that as small a flow as 10–15 particles per second will yield tens of pb–1 of data per year. The new injection system will be able to switch between gases within a few minutes, and in principle is capable of injecting not just noble gases, from helium up to krypton and xenon, but also several other species, including H2, D2, N2, and O2.

SMOG2 will open a new window on QCD studies and astroparticle physics at the LHC

SMOG2 will open a new window on QCD studies and astroparticle physics at the LHC, performing precision measurements in poorly known kinematic regions. Collisions with the gas target will occur at a nucleon–nucleon centre‑of‑mass energy of 115 GeV for a proton beam of 7 TeV, and 72 GeV for a Pb beam of 2.76 TeV per nucleon. Due to the boost of the interacting system in the laboratory frame and the forward geometrical acceptance of LHCb, it will be possible to access the largely unexplored high‑x and intermediate Q2 regions.

Combined with LHCb’s excellent particle identification capabilities and momentum resolution, the new gas target system will allow us to advance our understanding of the gluon, antiquark, and heavy‑quark components of nucleons and nuclei at large‑x. This will benefit searches for physics beyond the Standard Model at the LHC, by improving our knowledge of the parton distribution functions of both protons and nuclei, particularly at high‑x, where new particles are most often expected, and will inform the physics programmes of proposed next‑generation accelerators such as the Future Circular Collider. The gas target will also allow the dynamics and spin distributions of quarks and gluons inside unpolarised nucleons to be studied for the first time at the LHC, a decade before corresponding measurements at much higher accuracy are performed at the Electron‑Ion Collider in the US. Studying particles produced in collisions with light nuclei, such as He, and possibly N and O, will also allow LHCb to give important inputs to cosmic‑ray physics and dark‑matter searches. Last but not least, SMOG2 will allow LHCb to perform studies of heavy‑ion collisions at large rapidities, in an unexplored energy range between the SPS and RHIC, offering new insights into the QCD phase diagram.

Further reading

LHCb Collab. 2018 LHCb-PUB-2018-015.

LHCb Collab. 2019 LHCB-TDR-020.


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