Big bung theory - Hadron Collider breaks again

By Andrew Johnson

The secrets of the Big Bang will have to remain secret a little longer.

The Large Hadron Collider, which took 20 years to build and cost $10 billion, will not be able to unravel the mysteries of the universe for at least another two months, scientists announced.

The machine - a 27 kilometre circuit of super-cooled magnets deep beneath the borders of France and Switzerland - had to be shut down when temperatures rose by about 100C, causing a leak of a ton of liquid helium into the tunnel.

Scientists had hoped that the problem could be resolved quickly but yesterday announced that the project - beset by problems during its construction will be further delayed.

James Gilles, a spokesman for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern), said: "It's too early to say precisely what happened, but it seems to be a faulty electrical connection between two magnets that stopped superconducting, melted and led to a mechanical failure and let the helium out."

LHC timeline

Early 1980s - Scientists discuss proposal for a new, giant physics research machine to be known as the Large Hadron Collider.

1983 - Groundbreaking ceremony for the Large Electron-Positron collider. LEP is the largest scientific instrument ever constructed. The tunnel built for it has a circumference of 17 miles (27 kilometers), larger than needed so it can later house the proposed Large Hadron Collider.

1989 - LEP starts up.

1991 - CERN's Council endorses proposed Large Hadron Collider.

1993 - The US Congress cancels the Superconducting Super Collider - which was to have been the world's largest collider - after five years of construction in Texas costing US$2 billion.

1997 - After agreeing to provide significant financial contributions to the LHC, the United States becomes an observer at CERN Council.

1998 - Civil engineering for the LHC gets under way, with parts manufactured around the world.

2000 - LEP is shut down after running for 11 years to make way for the LHC. First LHC parts from the United States arrive.

2001 - A computer grid project to connect tens of thousands of computers worldwide is launched to handle data from LHC.

2003-2008 - Installation of major LHC equipment in the tunnel.

Sept. 10, 2008 - Launch of LHC after an outlay of US$10 billion.

Sept. 11 - Shutdown of LHC after a transformer fails.

Sept. 18 - LHC is recooled to near absolute zero after transformer is replaced.

Sept. 19 - Apparent electrical fault in a separate superconducting area causes a large leak of liquid helium into the tunnel. The LHC is shut down for at least two months so that its temperature can be raised to permit repairs.


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