Web Date: September 23, 2008
Just more than a week after the jubilant inauguration of the world's most powerful particle accelerator, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) would have to be switched off for at least two months.
Last Friday, the proton smasher suffered a serious setback when, during commissioning, a large amount of helium gas—1 ton, by some reports—leaked into the underground tunnel that houses LHC.
"Preliminary investigations indicate that the most likely cause of the problem was a faulty electrical connection between two magnets, which probably melted at high current, leading to mechanical failure," a CERN press release notes. "A full investigation is under way."
The problem will take several months to rectify because LHC needs to be warmed up from its supercool operating temperature of –271 °C, repaired, and then cooled back down.
The multi-billion-dollar machine may help resolve some fundamental physics mysteries, such as the makeup of dark matter and the existence of the Higgs boson, a particle that theoreticians think may have led to the origin of mass in the moments after the Big Bang. To do so, LHC is designed to collide two beams of protons, each traveling in opposite directions at energies of 7 x 1012 eV around a 16-mile underground track.
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