September 23, 2008, 5:22 PM — Problems continue to plague the world's largest particle collider, as physicists today disclosed that a faulty electrical connection has knocked it offline until next spring.
The news comes just days after CERN, a French acronym for the European Organization for Nuclear Research , said the faulty wiring would only have the Large Hadron Collider out of sevice for two months.
The organization released a statement Tuesday noting that they will need to investigate the issue further and do repairs. The repairs are unlikely to be completed before the project enters its "winter maintenance" period, the statement said.
"Coming immediately after the very successful start of the LHC operation on 10 September, this is undoubtedly a psychological blow," said CERN Director General Robert Aymar, in a statement. "Nevertheless, the success of the LHC's first operation is testimony to years of painstaking preparation and the skill of the teams involved in building and running CERN's accelerator complex. I have no doubt that we will overcome this setback with the same degree of rigor and application."
CERN first reported last Friday that an electrical connection between two magnets melted, causing a "large helium leak" in the tunnel. CERN said that "at no time was there any risk to people."
As part of the investigation, technicians will need to bring the affected area of the collider's tunnel to room temperature and the involved magnets will have to be opened for inspection. After the work is complete, the entire area will need to be re-cooled.
This latest problem comes about two weeks after a faulty transformer was replaced in the machine. The transformer went down the day after the collider's first test run , when a particle beam shot fully around the 17-mile, underground vacuum-sealed tube. After that, another beam was shot around the tube going in the opposite direction.
These tests are a build-up to the time when two beams will be shot around the tube in opposite directions on a collision course. Smashing the beams together will create showers of new particles that should re-create conditions in the universe just moments after its conception, giving scientists the chance to answer one of humanity's oldest questions: How was the universe created?
Last week, before the melted-wire problem, the collision test was expected to take place in a matter of weeks. Now, it will be pushed back until at least next spring.