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Second Snag This Week Could Delay LHC for Weeks 160

Posted by Soulskill
from the unfortunate-but-to-be-expected dept.
sciencehabit writes "After a transformer failure earlier this week, the Large Hadron Collider has hit another snag — and this one is much more serious. As Science reports, 'At least one of the LHC's more than 1700 superconducting magnets failed, springing a leak and spewing helium gas into the subterranean tunnel that houses the collider ... How long [repairs take] will depend in part on how much of the LHC must be warmed to room temperature for servicing. If it's only a short section, the repair could be relatively quick. But the machine is built in octants, and if workers have to heat and cool an entire octant, then the cooling alone would take several weeks." Reader Simmeh contributes coverage from the BBC. We recently discussed the transformer malfunction at the LHC, which was a smaller problem and has already been fixed. Update - 9/20 at 12:52 by SS: CNN reports that the LHC will be out of commission for two months.
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Second Snag This Week Could Delay LHC for Weeks

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  • by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @12:13AM (#25082237) Homepage Journal

    The Milky Way Darwin Award Committee has to wait a bit longer before awarding the little blue ex-planet.

    • The Milky Way Darwin Award Committee has to wait a bit longer before awarding the little blue ex-planet.

      We are a type 13 planet in it's final stages.

      http://scifipedia.scifi.com/index.php/Little_Blue_Planet_(LEXX_episode) [scifi.com]

      On a brighter note, My End Is Near sign business still has some life left in it.

  • by Ardeocalidus (947463) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @12:15AM (#25082243)
    Could it be that the to-be-discovered Higgs boson particulars are causing effecting the past and causing malfunctions with the LHC's components? http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2008/08/11/will-the-lhc%E2%80%99s-future-cancel-out-its-past/ [discovermagazine.com]
    • Immo: Minus the extra verb. It is late and I was debating whether or not the Grammar Nazi's were going to hound me.
      • Immo: Minus the extra verb.

        It is late and I was debating whether or not the Grammar Nazi's were going to hound me.

        It is late and I was debating whether or not the Grammar Nazi's were going to hound me.

        whether or not the Grammar Nazi's were going to hound me.

        the Grammar Nazi's

        Nazi's

        's

        '

        Well, we're damn well going to hound you now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kagura (843695)
      The authors reason that any accelerator which surpasses a certain threshold of super-high-energy collisions (thus producing many of these new particles) will never go into operation because it violates some yet-unknown universal law.

      We've never isolated a single quark, yet we sure know a helluva lot about them.

      Also, for an interesting and somewhat related topic, check out the wikipedia page on Quantum Suicide and Immortality [wikipedia.org]. It's an interesting thought experiment for many-worlds interpretation.
    • by 123beer (635607) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @12:44AM (#25082455)
      Some cosmological models posit that every possible quantum state simultaneously exists, but that we can only observe one particular collapsed wave function (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse_(science)#Many_worlds_interpretation_of_quantum_physics). So, maybe the LHC *does* in fact destroy the world when it is turned on, and we always find ourselves in a world that has not been destroyed (ie, one where the LHC is not functioning properly).
      • by 123beer (635607) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @12:50AM (#25082505)
        more relevant wikipedia article about the implications for observers:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-minds_interpretation [wikipedia.org]
        Only minds that exist can observe; only minds that have not been destroyed by the LHC can exist. So, if the LHC really destroys the earth we'll keep observing it not functioning correctly.
        • by Tablizer (95088)

          the implications for observers: .... Many-minds_interpretation
          only minds that have not been destroyed by the LHC can exist. So, if the LHC really destroys the earth we'll keep observing it not functioning correctly.

          Somebody else please post a possibly related observation about the you-know-what administration's close calls with doomsday. I'm too chicken to risk mod points ;-)
                 

        • by Artraze (600366)

          > So, if the LHC really destroys the earth we'll keep observing it not functioning correctly.

          Until it does, in fact, start working and destroy the earth. After all, while all the many-things ideas are fun to discuss, they only say that if the LHC necessarily destroys earth when it works, there will be branches that will have observed the LHC never working and that these will be the only ones with humanity intact.

          We could very well observe the destruction of the world, but we can rest assured that some o

        • This is one of the largest, most complex projects ever conceived. By its very nature, it tests the limits of our understanding of the universe, and our ability to engineer within it. There WILL be bugs, there WILL be glitches, and progress will be slow while we work out the mechanics of operating at this level.

          That LHC is down isn't surprising, it's expected. Wait 2-5 years, at which point the majority of kinks will be worked out and the LHC will be enjoying its "second wind".

          Have you ever built something b

          • by russotto (537200) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @11:11AM (#25085001) Journal

            Have you ever built something big, powerful, and complex? If you have, you'd know that "turning it on" is not a sudden point, it's a gradual process of implementation until it's fully operational, with hundreds or thousands of small, minor issues found and addressed as implementation approaches 100% complete.

            When _I_ turn something on, I set it up completely first, leaving only one final connection incomplete. That connection is made by an enormous knife switch, which I throw to the dramatic dimming of lights (managed by my assistant; my invention is of course on another power source entirely), sparks, and the scent of ozone. THAT is how you turn something big on.

            • When _I_ turn something on, I set it up completely first, leaving only one final connection incomplete. That connection is made by an enormous knife switch, which I throw to the dramatic dimming of lights (managed by my assistant; my invention is of course on another power source entirely), sparks, and the scent of ozone. THAT is how you turn something big on.

              Trying to get Vista running again, eh?

        • The alternative is that we will all die next time they turn it on. On the other hand, I suspect the LHC will turn us into radio-active, flying sheep (optionally with fins & lasers) before it destroys the world.
          That being said, I enjoy the actual discussion about this topic, I just think it does not have any factual value whatsoever. But as a philosophical question, it's great :)
        • Observation in the physics sense does not require a mind.

        • Only minds that exist can observe; only minds that have not been destroyed by the LHC can exist. So, if the LHC really destroys the earth we'll keep observing it not functioning correctly.

          But it could be functional if there were outside observers who wouldn't be immediately destroyed by the event. And since the total mass of the earth wouldn't change, anybody in orbit would be perfectly safe from the effect of a possible event - the ISS would keep orbiting like nothing happened (and, actually, it would b

        • I felt really stupid when I read that and didn't understand it but then I realized that somewhere out there I am understanding it.
      • And one great way (mentioned in the links) is to kill yourself, and see if that merely excludes from your observation any world in which you'd be dead.

        Hey, just puttin' it out there.

  • by doublee3 (1276070)
    Dr.Kleiner got his high pitched voice.
    • by thewiz (24994)

      I'd rather hear the conversations in the tunnel while they're repairing it!

      Big, burly men with high, squeaky voices is always good for a laugh!

  • by Panaflex (13191) <convivialdingo&yahoo,com> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @12:20AM (#25082275)

    Thar she blows, ye scalleywag... doewn beluw deck she's spewin colder then the centre o' hell.

    Mark me wards... there's trouble brewing... somethin strange and black. Beware, I say... beware!!!

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      It will be changed from "Talk Like a Pirate Day" to "Talk Like an Extinct Earthling Day".
       

  • by Majik Sheff (930627) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @12:26AM (#25082321) Journal

    All I could envision was a bunch of physicists coming out of the tunnel squeaking like chipmunks.

    I have nothing to contribute but a cheap laugh and for that I am sorry.

    • All I could envision was a bunch of physicists coming out of the tunnel squeaking like chipmunks.

      ... in French.

    • by bockelboy (824282)

      :) Actually, the danger is that the helium replaces all the oxygen in the tunnel and they all die.

      • Why on earth would you use a smiley emoticon to preface your remark about slow death by asphyxiation?

        Oh--right [theonion.com].

  • Liquid Helium Piping (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pipingguy (566974) * on Saturday September 20, 2008 @12:33AM (#25082375) Homepage
    I'd like to know the diameter of the vacuum-insulated piping that is transporting the liquid helium for cooling. Piping large volumes of that stuff is not trivial.
    • Of all the huge amazing thing that the LHC is you find only the vacuum-insulated piping amazing?
      • by pipingguy (566974) *
        Such a giant project has many important elements. Perhaps you didn't notice the domain that I run (coming up on 10 years next month!). Kinda explains my focus, no? Some say it's an obsession, though, but those people are weirdos.
        • Perhaps you didn't notice the domain that I run...Kinda explains my focus, no?

          I dunno...on the internet, one always assumes that pipingguy is involved with pornography.

          Or possibly backbone routers.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20, 2008 @02:51AM (#25083051)

      There is not just one line. There are 6 lines as far as I know. They transport superfluid helium as well as warm helium. Here is a paper about the cryo system:

      http://accelconf.web.cern.ch/AccelConf/e96/PAPERS/ORALS/THO04A.PDF

      Anyways, they are now investigating with a remote inspection train that can travel in the LHC.

      Paper accessible here:

      http://accelconf.web.cern.ch/accelconf/p07/PAPERS/MOPAN076.PDF

      Sorry but I am going to an anonymous coward -- but clearly, this post comes from CERN...

  • So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shma (863063) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @12:47AM (#25082485)
    A delay of a few weeks for a project that has been a decade in planning is no big deal. The universe isn't going anywhere.
  • the octant? (Score:5, Funny)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare@NoSpaM.gmail.com> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @01:03AM (#25082561) Homepage Journal

    oh i know this level

    just beyond the dead space marine after you open the first door (watch out for the imp sniping at you from above) there's a false panel marked "UHC" (not "LHC") on your left. shoot that with your pistol and it opens. but shooting your pistol will wake a cacodemon further down the hall

    easy

    • The hall is pitch dark. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

      You have fallen into the fangs of a slavering grue.

      Game Over
    • by GFree678 (1363845)

      Heh. Your DOOM reference was marked "Informative" rather than "Funny". I think certain Slashdotters need to step away from the computer. :)

  • Keep Nuking 'Em Forever!
    • by ksd1337 (1029386)
      So that's why DNF didn't get released yet! He got sucked into one of the black holes made by the collider.
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @01:39AM (#25082747) Homepage

    You can look at much LHC status online, including detailed cyro status. (I'm not giving the URL, so as not to Slashdot that server. You can find it if you really care.) Sector 34 of the LHC is at sector 34 at 4.5K-20K, instead of down below 4.5K where it should be. One of the magnets quenched and went normal, and much of the energy in the magnet is dumped as heat. Then the liquid helium boils to a gas and blows out through relief valves. But the sector hasn't been brought up to room temperature, so they apparently think they can fix the problem without major work on the magnet.

    Some of the cyrogenic magnets gave serious trouble last year, but apparently it's not as bad this time.

    • by AySz88 (1151141)
      I think it should be noted that "sector 34" is not the 34th out of some large number, it's "the sector between points 3 and 4", which is an entire eighth of the assembly [web.cern.ch].
  • by stonetony (464331) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @02:07AM (#25082889)

    STOP!!!!!

    Is anyone listening?

  • LHC salesdroid: "See, I TOLD you that you were gonna want that extended warranty. But NOOOOO!"
  • Guess I better make that credit card payment I was going to blow off.
  • End of the earth put off for another few months? but hey, the mayan calender of whatnot said 2012, right?
  • That sure is a great theory about how the LHC cannot work. Wonderful, actually.

    And completely ridiculous.

    When the LHC does start the kooks are going to come out and say that it just simply doesn't have the power to create these particles -- yea, that's why it's working now.

    And then we'll get our first pictures of the boson. And yet, for some strange reason, hardly anyone will remember that a bunch of people were behaving like total fools, and the world will go on. And the kooks will claim we're not looki

  • This is a hige project. More than two decades were spent on it. A myriad of components has been used, many of which were designed for the LHC. Some stuff just simply _has_ to break.
    That being said, I think those people will be able to fix the issues that come up from time to time and then have a smooth-running experimental setup.
  • by imsabbel (611519) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:42AM (#25083537)

    I would expect at least a douzend of failures and faults of that magnitude until full power is reached.
    Its just too complex.
    And about the "expensive!!!1" aspect: A few months delay are so much cheaper than spending twice as much before so try to get everything 200% perfect. And even then things might go wrong.

    Even in a tiny normal synchrotron, shit happens. At the ALS in Berkelely they managed to detonante a main PSU because they only tested them one at a piece, and when build in they had bad crosstalk. Beam was down for several weeks.
    At the SLS in Villigen, even months after the full ramp-up beam instabilities or drops happened on rather regular basis.

    Such things happen.

  • ...messing with god knows what!

    Gordon, what the hell were you thinking, pushing that crate in front of the descending laser shield!?

  • by Richard Kirk (535523) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @06:57AM (#25083767)

    If you are not familiar with superconducting magnets, then some of these terms may seem a bit mysterious. So, here goes...

    A superconducting magnet is essentially a big coil of superconductor. Initially, you put current into the superconductor to build up the magnetic field. You then 'join the ends' of the superconducting loop, so the current circulates endlessly, and the middle has a constant magnetic field.

    There is a lot of energy in the magnetic field. An 11-tesla magnetic field has about the same energy per unit volume as TNT. Worse than TNT, there is no rest mass to the 'explosive' so all the magnetic field energy would be dumped straight to the surround. The surround is already under a lot of tension due to the magnetic field, so the magnet would blow apart spectacularly, if it wasn't properly designed.

    The magnet has a link in the superconductor which is heated to drive it 'normal': this is used when the magnetic field is being built up. This link usually has a great big conventional shunt resistor in parallel with it with great big heat sinks, and this arrangement is usually on the top of the magnet. If the helium level gets low or something else funny happens, the hope is that the coil superconductivity will go at this point rather than anywhere else. The magnetic energy, instead of getting dumped into the magnet's structure, gets dumped into this shunt resistor. It may glow yellow, and boil off lots of helium, but the magnetic field can collapse over a few seconds rather than instantly, and won't release an electromegnetic pulsed that might set off a chain reaction with the magnets next door.

    What has happened here is that the safety system has gone off in one of the magnets just as it ought to. I expect they will inspect the shunt assembly to check nothing has scorched when all the energy got dumped, and also to try and find out why it did. However, with luck they can get it all going again without interrupting the vacuum.

    • by DrLudicrous (607375) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @09:16AM (#25084345) Homepage

      To add to this pretty good explanation, quenching is a normal part of "training" a SC magnet. Basically, when the SC coil is wound, there are slight imperfections that prevent a maximal field from being obtained. So you pump a shit ton of current through the magnet after cooling it for the first time till it quenches. As you put field, you actually are changing the winding configuration ever so slightly, as the field generated by the magnet can actually exert on the force wires containing the current. This process is repeated several times to maximize the attainable field, and make it homogeneous as possible, etc.

      The only other problem is that unplanned quenches can also damage the magnet. That is unlikely in this case, but I have a dead hulk of a 9T in my lab to prove that it can happen. To this day, I don't know what went wrong, but my guess is that there was damage at the point that current enters and leaves the system during field changes. Hopefully this is not the case at the LHC, and they can be back up and in business ASAP.

  • On my Google page just now:

    If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can't be done. - Peter Ustinov

  • by itsdapead (734413) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @08:38AM (#25084153)
    Universe destroys Large Hadron Collider!
  • by houbou (1097327) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @10:19AM (#25084683) Journal

    LHC = Leaking Helium Coolant

    Quite appropriately named uh?

  • After the failure last year of a magnet assembly provided by Fermilab the powers that be at CERN decided to forgoe a lot of the very low power testing that should have been done, instead chosing to meet an artificial schedule. Bad move and if they have any brains they would now revert back to the original plans once they restart.

    The odds were that if Fermilab had in fact produced the Higgs the data analysis would show this before CERN could file their own discovery so there really is nothing to race agains

  • What failed, apparently, was a non-cryogenic high-current electrical connection in one of the magnets. They didn't have a magnet winding failure, which is much worse; the whole magnet would probably have to be removed from the tunnel for repairs if that happened. To fix the current problem, they're going to have to bring some magnets up to room temperature, lose vacuum, fix the thing, and chill everything down again. It's a slow process, but not too bad.

    Even though the statements from CERN are relative

  • Doomsday Device (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bob Hearn (61879) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @01:36PM (#25086087) Homepage

    This makes me think of the great SF story "Doomsday Device", by John Gribbin (Analog, Feb. 1985 -- unfortunately not available online, AFAIK). In that story a powerful particle accelerator seemingly fails to operate, for no good reason. Then a physicist realizes that if it were to work, it would effectively destroy the entire universe, by initiating a transition from a cosmological false vacuum state to a lower-energy vacuum state. In fact, the accelerator *has* worked; the only realities the characters experience involve highly unlikely equipment failures. (Thus, a many-worlds physics is shown to be correct.) It's further revealed that the world has been "anthropically steered" in the past by arranging for it to be destroyed when things are not going well.

  • by bokmann (323771) on Sunday September 21, 2008 @09:49AM (#25092595) Homepage

    Just once, I'd like to see a report on the LHC that didn't call the Higgs Boson the "God Particle", and didn't talk about crackpot fears of mini black holes. I mean, we don't follow every report from the Mars polar lander or rovers about the "Canals of Mars were once thought to carry water", do we?

  • springing a leak and spewing helium gas into the subterranean tunnel

    the biggest delay is apparently due to the difficulty of maintaining a serious attitude while in the tunnel...

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