Keystone, Martial Trezzini/AP
A portion of the Large Hadron Collider

Repairs Extend Super Collider Shutdown to Next Summer

November 19, 2008 04:00 PM
by Denis Cummings
The Large Hadron Collider will remain shut down until early summer as a major helium leak is repaired at a cost of $21 million.

LHC to Remain Shut Down Until Early Summer

The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, was launched Sept. 10, but the $10 billion “Big Bang” machine will not be colliding protons until early summer.

Officials at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) say that a major helium leak caused by an electrical fault will not be fully repaired until late May or early June. The repair will cost an estimated $21 million.

“If we can do it sooner, all well and good. But I think we can do it realistically early summer,” said CERN spokesman James Gillies. “There is still a lot of work to do and we want to be sure that everything is in order before starting up. We will start up the LHC again as soon as possible.”

The LHC was launched on the morning of Sept. 10, but had a cooling transformer malfunction within hours of its launch. The minor problem was fixed on Sept. 18, but the helium leak was discovered the following day. The repairs were originally estimated to be completed in the spring—following a scheduled maintenance period in the winter—but those plans have been pushed back.

Background: The Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider was designed to simulate the universe milliseconds after the Big Bang. Scientists hope that they will be able to determine what the early universe was made of, why matter overcame antimatter and where dark matter exists. They are also looking to prove the existence of the Higgs boson, which explains why particles have mass.

The LHC is an underground complex made up of several large cathedral-sized buildings housing high-powered magnets. The magnets, which will be cooled to within two degrees Kelvin of absolute zero, shoot protons at 99.99-percent of the speed of light through a 17-mile circular tunnel lined with computers that will detect and analyze each particle collision.

There are several structures built along the tunnel that perform specific calculations, the most significant of which are A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE), A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS (ATLAS) and Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS). ALICE will examine the quark–gluon plasma that existed after the Big Bang, while ATLAS and CMS will try to detect dark matter, extra dimensions and the Higgs boson.

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