London, Sep 24: Scientists have announced that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which aims to unravel the secrets of the Big Bang, will be closed down until spring 2009, as they work towards repairing a magnetic failure. The LHC circulates particles in a 17-mile circumference underground tunnel straddling the French-Swiss border at The European Organization for Nuclear Research, near Geneva, Switzerland, known by the acronym CERN.
According to report in the Telegraph, a tonne of liquid helium spilled into the machine's 17 mile tunnel on September 19, forcing scientists to shut it off less than ten days after the start of the project in Geneva, Switzerland. Officials at CERN, which is running the experiment, said that initial investigations suggest there is a faulty electrical connection between two of the accelerator's magnets.
However, engineers need time to fully diagnose the problem and said it cannot be done before their lab is closed down for winter maintenance. The collider requires temperatures just above absolute zero (-273.15 degrees C) to allow particles to be steered around the circuit.
However, when liquid helium leaked into the tunnel, which straddles the French-Swiss border, it caused around a hundred of the machine's magnets to heat up by 212F (100C). The tunnel must be brought up to room temperature to allow engineers to inspect the magnets. The process will take three or four weeks.
The machine has more than 1,200 'dipole' magnets arranged end-to-end in an underground tunnel that runs in a circle for 27km. These magnets carry and steer beams of protons, which will travel around the machine at close to the speed of light.
At allotted points around the tunnel, the beams will cross paths, smashing together near four massive 'detectors' that monitor the collisions for interesting events. It is anticipated that the collider will be reactivated again in the spring.
Coming immediately after the very successful start of LHC operation on September 10, this is undoubtedly a psychological blow, according to Robert Aymar, director general of CERN. "Nevertheless, the success of the LHC's first operation with beam is testimony to years of painstaking preparation and the skill of the teams involved in building and running CERN's accelerator complex," said Aymar.
"I have no doubt that we will overcome this setback with the same degree of rigour and application," he added. The 3.6 billion dollars particle accelerator, one of the most expensive scientific experiments in history, is built to smash protons together at enormous speeds.
It is hoped this will recreate conditions moments after the universe was created, and lead scientists to discovering some of the most fundamental questions in physics.