Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in CERN, Geneva suffered light damage on September 19, 2008 when one of the giant superconducting magnets that guide the protons failed during a test. A large amount of helium, which is used to cool the magnets to 1.9 Kelvin (-271C; -456F) leaked into the collider tunnel. LHC will now be shut down for at least two months for repairs. Physicists say such setbacks are an inevitable part of starting up such a large and complicated machine.

Several mishaps, including the failure of a 30 ton electrical transformer, have slowed LHC’s progress since the initial start-up on September 10, 2008. The laboratory said in a statement that an electrical connection between the magnets had melted because of the high current. The machine has more than 1,200 dipole magnets arranged end-to-end in the underground ring. These magnets carry and steer the proton beams which will accelerate around the machine at close to the speed of light. One of the LHC’s eight sectors will now have to be warmed up to well above its operating temperature so that repairs can take place.

It’s too early to say whether we’ll still be having collisions this year.

The collider is designed to accelerate protons to energies of seven trillion electron volts and collide them together in search of new particles and forces. After the initial success of accelerating protons through the machine, physicists had hoped they could move ahead quickly to low energy collisions at 450 billion electron volts and then 5 trillion electron volt collisions as early as mid-October.

The recent setbacks, however, mean that hopes the first trial collisions would be carried out before the machine’s official inauguration on October 21, 2008 now look doubtful. It even looks uncertain whether this can be achieved before 2009.