LHC Flings Protons Once Again; Scientists Celebrate With Caution
Hackers. Leaking liquid helium caused by a faulty connection. International ridicule. And to top it all off, aerial attack by a wayward baguette. Yes, it’s safe to say that things haven’t gone according to plan at the Large Hadron Collider in the last 14 months, but the world’s largest particle smasher is finally—finally!—back online after its Friday restart, with proton beams circulating through this huge underground ring.
The first time protons circled the collider, on Sept. 10, 2008, the event was celebrated with Champagne and midnight pajama parties around the world. But the festivities were cut short a few days later when an electrical connection between a pair of the collider’s giant superconducting electromagnets vaporized [The New York Times].
The initial enthusiasm, it seems, was rather premature—scientists analysis of the failed connection revealed many more that probably couldn’t handle the strain of the energy needed to re-create conditions similar to the Big Bang. During 14 months of repairs dozens of giant superconducting magnets that accelerate particles at the speed of light had to be replaced [BBC News].
The long delay gave rise to frustration among scientists, ridicule by comedians, and time for the “LHC will destroy the world” theories to be replaced in the zeitgeist by the even loonier-sounding proposal that the LHC keeps malfunctioning because its potential future is canceling out its past. However, CERN scientists say, though they would have rather spent the last year-plus smashing particles together and hunting the Higgs Boson, analyzing their big machine has allowed them to understand it better than ever before.
Still, given the collider’s troubled history, CERN director of accelerators Steve Myers is taking it slow. If things continue to progress at this speed, scientists may be able to accelerate particles at the highest energy level ever tested before Christmas, although high-energy collisions that may shed light on the secrets of the universe would only happen in the new year, Myers said [Reuters].