Particle collider now offline till spring

Faulty wiring forces 'Big Bang' machine down for a long winter's nap

Problems continue to plague the world's largest particle collider, as physicists today disclosed that a faulty electrical connection has knocked it offline until next spring.

The news comes just days after CERN, as the European Organization for Nuclear Research is known, said the faulty wiring would only have the Large Hadron Collider out of sevice for two months.

The organization released a statement today noting that it will need to investigate the issue further and do repairs. The repairs are unlikely to be completed before the project enters its "winter maintenance" period, the statement said.

"Coming immediately after the very successful start of the LHC operation on 10 September, this is undoubtedly a psychological blow," said CERN Director General Robert Aymar, in a statement. "Nevertheless, the success of the LHC's first operation … is testimony to years of painstaking preparation and the skill of the teams involved in building and running CERN's accelerator complex. I have no doubt that we will overcome this setback with the same degree of rigor and application."

CERN first reported last Friday that an electrical connection between two magnets melted, causing a "large helium leak" in the tunnel. CERN said that "at no time was there any risk to people."

As part of the investigation, technicians will need to bring the affected area of the collider's tunnel to room temperature and the involved magnets will have to be opened for inspection. After the work is complete, the entire area will need to be recooled.

This latest problem comes about two weeks after a faulty transformer was replaced in the machine. The transformer went down the day after the collider's first test run, when a particle beam shot fully around the 17-mile, underground vacuum-sealed tube. After that, another beam was shot around the tube going in the opposite direction.

These tests are a buildup to the time when two beams will be shot around the tube in opposite directions on a collision course. Smashing the beams together will create showers of new particles that should re-create conditions in the universe just moments after its conception, giving scientists the chance to answer one of humanity's oldest questions: How was the universe created?

Last week, prior to the wiring problem, the collision test was expected to take place in a matter of weeks. Now, it will be pushed back until at least next spring.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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