Particle collider will have to wait until spring
CERN reports the repairing of the world’s largest particle collider will run into the normal winter shutdown.24 September 2008
GENEVA -- Scientists will have to wait until spring to use the world's largest particle collider for groundbreaking research because previously announced repairs will run into the normal winter shutdown, the operators said Tuesday.
Experts have been down into the 27-kilometre tunnel housing the Large Hadron Collider to see what they could determine about the damage caused last Friday when an electrical connection between two magnets apparently melted, said James Gillies, spokesman for CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.
But they will still have to wait several weeks before the temperature can be raised from near absolute zero so that they can go inside the equipment to examine the extent of the damage, Gillies said.
"They're going to have to open up and really investigate what went on there," Gillies said. "So that's going to be two or three weeks before we can put out something that we're sure of."
It is clear that it is going to take at least two months for the whole procedure, and for the equipment to be re-chilled so that the equipment can take advantage of "superconducting" - operating without resistance where it is colder than outer space.
"We are not going to be done with this before the winter shutdown, so there will be no more beam in the LHC this year," Gillies told The Associated Press. "The winter shutdown will go according to schedule, which means that we start up the accelerator complex in the spring months."
Only then will the Large Hadron Collider be able to collide protons, revealing how the tiniest particles were first created after the "big bang," which many theorise was the massive explosion that formed the stars, planets and everything.
CERN has previously said the meltdown released a large amount of liquid helium into the tunnel.
The laboratory usually shuts down in mid-November and resumes at the end of March or early April so that it can save electricity during the winter months of high demand for power.
After that the operators will go through the process of restarting the "accelerator chain" which prepares the beams of protons to be fired through the machine to make possible the collisions that physicists use to study the makeup of matter and the universe.
That, said Gillies, "is something that we do every year and it's something we have a lot of experience in doing, so there's no reason to think that that would not go rather quickly. I suspect that the priority for the restart next year will be to get LHC beams as quickly as possible."
The new collider, launched with great fanfare on 10 September, had an auspicious beginning, firing beams of protons from the nuclei of atoms first at the speed of light in a clockwise direction though a fire-hose-sized tube in the tunnel, then through the counterclockwise tube.
Then a transformer failed about 36 hours after startup. That was relatively easy to fix because it was outside the cold zone. The machine was ready to go again when the electrical fault occurred.
Scientists expected "teething problems" in getting the extremely complex machine running at full power, but the controlled, warm up-cool down procedure added extra time to repair what would have been fixed fairly quickly on a smaller, room-temperature machine.
Scientists hope the powerful Large Hadron Collider will reveal more about "dark matter," antimatter and possibly hidden dimensions of space and time. They could also find evidence of a hypothetical particle - the Higgs boson - which is sometimes called the "God particle" because it is believed to give mass to all other particles, and thus to matter that makes up the universe.
Smaller colliders have been used for decades to study the makeup of the atom. Scientists once thought protons and neutrons were the smallest components of an atom's nucleus, but experiments have shown that protons and neutrons are made of quarks and gluons and that there are other forces and particles.
Some sceptics have expressed fears that the high-energy collision of protons could eventually imperil the Earth by creating micro black holes - subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars.
CERN and leading physicists dismiss the fears and maintain the project is safe.
[AP / Expatica]