Big bang machines atom smashing delayed due to magnet fault

September 20th, 2008 - 12:25 pm ICT by ANI  

London, September 20 (ANI): Plans for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to start smashing its first particles next week have been derailed after it developed a significant fault in its magnets.

The LHC circulates particles in a 17-mile circumference underground tunnel straddling the French-Swiss border at The European Organization for Nuclear Research, near Geneva, Switzerland, known by the acronym CERN.

The problem with several of the 3.6 billion pound accelerators super-conducting magnets means it will be impossible to stage its first trial collisions next week, and further delays could follow once the damage has been fully assessed.

While a faulty transformer that had hindered progress for much of the past week has now been replaced, the magnet failure is potentially more serious. It could even take several weeks to resolve, depending on the extent of the damage.

The incident was what is known as a quench, in which the temperature of superconducting magnets that are normally chilled to 1.9 Celsius above absolute zero started to rise.

It caused the temperature of many of the 200 or so magnets in the affected sector to soar by as much as 100 C, which would normally take about two weeks to be cooled again.

There could be further delays because helium has also escaped into the LHCs tunnel, and there were unconfirmed reports that the vacuum had been lost in part of the beam pipe in which protons circulate.

Engineers were still investigating the extent of the malfunction this afternoon, and CERN officials could not say how long it would take to fix and what impact it would have on the LHCs schedule.

The fault does not pose any longer-term threat to the LHC.

The quench took place just a day after the LHCs beam was restored following the earlier transformer failure.

It occurred during the final test of the last of the LHCs electrical circuits to be commissioned, so it can handle the enormous current required for magnets to bend protons at unprecedented energies.

According to James Gillies, head of communications at CERN, The incident occurred while we were commissioning the final sector, and a lot of helium has leaked into the tunnel. We are investigating now, and we should have a clearer picture over the weekend.

How long it takes to resolve depends on what it is. It could be very little time, or it could be many weeks. I dont want to speculate until we have more information. It certainly means we will not have collisions on Monday, or indeed next week, he added. (ANI)

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