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Sun Sep 21, 1:55 PM ET
GENEVA - Scientists expect startup glitches in the massive, complex machines they use to smash atoms.
But the unique qualities of the world's largest particle collider mean that the meltdown of a small electrical connection could delay its groundbreaking research until next year, scientists said Sunday.
Because the Large Hadron Collider operates at near absolute zero — colder than outer space — the damaged area must be warmed to a temperature where humans can work. That takes about a month. Then it has to be re-chilled for another month.
As a result, the equipment may not be running again before the planned shutdown of the equipment for the winter to reduce electricity costs. That means Friday's meltdown could end up putting off high-energy collisions of particles — the machine's ultimate objective — until 2009.
"Hopefully we'll come online and go quickly to full energy a few months into 2009 so in the long term, this may not end up being such a large delay in the physics program," Seth Zenz, a graduate student from the University of California, wrote on the site of the U.S. physicists working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN.
"It's obviously a short-term disappointment, though, and a lost opportunity," he wrote.
CERN spokesman James Gillies said the repair operation will last until close to the usual winter shutdown time at the end of November. There has been some discussion that the new equipment could operate through the winter, but no decision has been made, he said.
The melting of the wire connecting two magnets Friday would have taken only a couple of days to repair on smaller, room-temperature accelerators that have been in use for decades, Gillies said.
Gillies said particle accelerators using superconducting equipment at Fermilab outside Chicago and at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York state had similar problems starting up, but have been operating smoothly since then.
"Once they settled in they seem to be pretty stable," Gillies said.
At the Sept. 10 launch of the collider, beams of protons from the nuclei of atoms were fired first at the speed of light in a clockwise direction though a fire-hose-sized tube in the tunnel. Then proton beams were fired in the counterclockwise tube.
Jos Engelen, CERN's chief scientific officer and deputy director-general, said the startup showed that the LHC can handle complex operations.
The experiment aims to recreate conditions immediately after the "Big Bang" explosion which cosmologists believe is at the origin of our expanding universe.
It will do this by sending beams of subatomic particles around the 17-mile (27-km) subterranean tunnel to smash into each other at close to the speed of light.
These collisions will explode in a burst of energy and of new and previously unseen particles, whose existence, in some cases, has been predicted by particle physicists.
(For a full summary technical report on the incident at CERN, click on: edms.cern.ch... )
Originally posted by Xeven
I think it is laughable that this billion's of dollar experiment is going to wait to turn on for the first time to save on the electric bill because it is winter?
That is political correctness gone mad. Heck the power company should just donate the extra cost to get this thing turned on for the first time. That is completely out of touch with reality. I can see in a few years once most experimenting is routine that they would turn it off to save ojn the electric bill...but to hold back the very first start of this several billion dollar experiment to save a few bucks is nuts lol.