Atom Smasher Offline Until March | NBC New York

Atom Smasher Offline Until March

The Large Hadron Collider will take months to fix



    AFP/Getty Images
    The Large Hadron Collider suffered a helium leak that will have it out of commission until March.

    The "End of Days" crowd can breath a little easier, the atom smasher's going up on blocks until spring.

    The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland must undergo repairs after an an electrical failure caused a helium leak that left a liquid mess in the 17-mile tunnel housing the massive machine.

    "They're going to have to open up and really investigate what went on there," said James Gillies of the European Organization for Nuclear Research. "So that's going to be two or three weeks before we can put out something that we're sure of."

    Problems started when the connection between two magnets leaked. But for workers to get in there and fix anything, they must wait for the temperature rise from absolute zero, −459.67, to something a little more hospitable.

    And of course, once all the work is done, they'll have to wait while the whole system cools again. That delay will take the LHC into its regularly scheduled winter break, which doesn't end until March.

    This isn't the first time the atom smasher has run into problems. Launched with great fanfare on Sept. 10, it had an auspicious beginning, firing beams of protons at the speed of light first in a clockwise direction though a fire-hose-sized tube in the tunnel, then through a counterclockwise tube.

    But a transformer failed about 36 hours after startup, forcing a halt in tests. The transformer was relatively easy to fix because it was outside the cold zone and it was ready to go again when the electrical fault occurred.

    Each day the LHC is off line is another that the doomsday scenario feared by many can't come to pass. There are those who claim that high-energy collision of protons could imperil the Earth by creating micro black holes -- subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars.