London, Sep 25: The news that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is intended to collide opposing beams of protons with vey high kinetic energy, has shut down until spring 2009 due to a technical failure, has not come as a surprise to some scientists. They said that such a glitch in the giant machine was expected.
The LHC is the world's largest and highest energy particle accelerator complex. The LHC circulated its first particle beams on 10 September 2008, but a few days later had to suspend operations due to equipment failure, when a faulty connection between two magnets triggered a shutdown which will delay its operation for two months. Owing to the already planned winter shutdown, the collider will not be operational again until the spring of 2009.
A report in the Telegraph newspaper said that the news that a little bang (technical failure) has delayed the world's biggest experiment, that aims to recreate conditions near the Big Bang of creation, comes as little surprise to anyone familiar with the complexities of the giant enterprise. Sources said that turning on a vast machine to collide particles at near the speed of light was never going to be easy.
Once it had emerged that a massive failure on September 19 had set back the huge enterprise by two months, a further delay in creating primordial fireballs was almost inevitable. The reason is that laboratory shuts down to save money on electricity during the winter, and because some maintenance is obligatory.
The knock out blow came on 19 September, when one of the giant superconducting magnets that guide the protons failed during a test. The breakdown led to the release of ton of helium used to cool the magnets that guide subatomic particles around the giant 17 mile circumference machine.
The reason for the delay is to do with how the giant machine relies on both the lowest temperature and the highest vacuum to collide particles - protons - at a shade under the speed of light.
During a power test, the very last before collisions could start in the machine, a fault led to a warming of the busbar. As superconductivity was lost, the temperature soared in a 'quench.'
For reasons that are not understood, the failure triggered the loss of one ton of helium, from that supplying a section of the tunnel under the Jura mountains.
The vacuum - the most extreme in the Solar System - was lost too.
There must have been an explosion of some kind, admits a CERN spokesman, but close inspection of the damage will not take place for a week or more, when the sector is warm enough.