Electrical Glitch Delays Large Hadron Collider

September 22, 2008

Full-power operation of the world's largest atom smasher will be delayed at least two months because of an electrical malfunction.

Twenty years in the making, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland, was designed to investigate dark matter, the big bang, and other mysteries of the early universe. (Interactive: understanding the God particle.)

Operators hurled the first beam of low-energy particles through the collider's 17-mile (27-kilometer) underground track just over a week ago.

The successful test had officials hopeful that they could start smashing opposing beams of particles together in as little as two week's time.

But during a routine test on September 19, an electrical link failed between two of the machine's massive 30-ton superconducting magnets, which guide speeding particles through the track.

"What we know indicates there was a faulty connection between two cables joining two magnets together that warmed up to the point of melting and that resulted in helium being leaked into the tunnel," said James Gillies, a spokesperson for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which operates the machine.

No one was hurt during the malfunction, and the problem has been confined to a roughly two-mile (three-kilometer) swath of the track.

"This was actually the final electrical test of the final electrical circuit for qualification for running at high energy," Gillies told National Geographic News.

"This would have been the last hurdle."

"Teething Troubles"

Repairs are expected to take at least two months, thus squashing any hope that the LHC will be ready for its official inauguration, set for October 21.

The delay is due to the fact that the collider's operating temperature inside the track is -456.3 degrees Fahrenheit (-271.3 degrees Celsius).

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