LHC: End of the world postponed?

Of course I do not believe that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will cause the end of the world! But since the chicken-Littles of the world have been crying wolf... I thought I would have a little laugh at their expense.

What is the Large Hadron Collider? Simply put, it is the largest particle accelerator ever built (actually, the largest atom-smasher) and it will allow us to peer into the very fabric of the universe and re-create conditions that were only present a few nanoseconds after the Big Bang. If you don't know what a particle accelerator is and what it is used for, go check wikipedia, which also has a nice article on the LHC.

Now, seriously, we science fans are more than a little disappointed. The LHC (see news here) was initially turned on on September 1oth. A good day for science! The giant magnet was powered on and protons were spun around the 27 km circunference successfully. Unfortunately on September 19th, a failure in two of the magnets used to accelerate and confine the proton beam caused a helium leak. Helium is used as a coolant, the LHC magnets being kept at an extremely low temperature of 1.9 K - that is more than 270°C below cero!

Imagine the challenges of operating equipment at such extreme temperatures! Science fans have been further disappointed by the fact that the LHC is now only slated to be re-started in the early spring of 2009 - which for me means march or april.

There have been all sorts of reactions from the fans of the LHC protesting such a lengthy repair. But the challenge is to bring the failed section up to room temperature: from 1.9 K to 300 K it may take several weeks, in order to avoid any damage during heat up. And once the repairs are conducted, it will then take some more time to cool down everything to operating temperature - not to mention the planned winter shut down, which is closing fast!

In any case, 2009 should be the year when the LHC will make headlines (at least in the media outlets that we, science fans, read) and who knows, maybe string theory will get confirmation... or not!

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