European technology agency CERN announced on Wednesday that the restart of the upgraded Large Hadron Collider has been delayed due to an electrical problem relating to the giant electromagnets that power the device.
The CERN statement noted that seven of LHC’s eight magnet sectors had been successfully commissioned to run at the higher operating energy of 6.5 TeV (trillion electron volts) per beam, but problems with the eighth sector were still being investigated.
More on the Large Hadron Collider restart delay
The problem is apparently a transient short circuit in one of the magnet sectors. This is not a major issue, but it may take a while to fix. It might be time consuming as CERN engineers may need to first warm the Large Hadron Collider up and then cool it back down in order to locate the short circuit.
“Any cryogenic machine is a time amplifier,” explained CERN’s Director for Accelerators, Frédérick Bordry, in Wednesday’s statement, “so what would have taken hours in a warm machine could end up taking us weeks.”
LHC has been on hiatus for two years while engineers and scientists bring the whole system up from 8 TeV to 13 TeV. That makes the atom-smasher capable of colliding particles at 6.5 TeV per beam rather than a mere 4 TeV.
To accomplish this goal, CERN has upgraded the accelerator by putting in 18 new magnets of the total 1232 superconducting dipole magnets, as well as installing more than 10,000 electrical interconnections between the magnets with splices to protect against a fault in the 11,000 amp current. Of note, superconducting magnets require cooling with an upgraded cryogenics system.
Experts note the delay will not delay scheduled LHC operations, since 2015 was set aside for tuning up for the new performance levels of the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC is expected to be fully operational for conducting tests from 2016 and 2018.
The greater energy used to collide particles should help produce new data about the origin of dark matter, the weakness of gravity and why nature prefers matter to antimatter, and possibly even confirmatory evidence regarding the controversial theory of supersymmetry.
Statement from CERN Director
“All the signs are good for a great run 2,” commented CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. “In the grand scheme of things, a few weeks delay in humankind’s quest to understand our universe is little more than the blink of an eye.”