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Large Hadron Collider Just Might Melt Its Way Out of a Glitch

Engineers say melting a piece of metal that fell in the wrong place may resolve a short circuit that has stymied the Large Hadron Collider's restart.
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/ Source: NBC News

Operations at the Large Hadron Collider apparently have been stymied by a little piece of metal that fell into the works, creating a short circuit — and Europe's CERN particle physics center says one of the remedies being considered is to turn up the electrical current high enough to "melt the offending object."

After a two-year-long shutdown for upgrades, the world's most powerful particle accelerator was due to resume shooting beams of protons through its 17-mile-round (27-kilometer-round) ring of helium-cooled magnets this week. But the LHC's operators detected an intermittent short circuit in one of the magnet sectors, forcing them to put the plan on hold.

Image: LHC troubleshooting
Engineers Aline Piguiet and Markus Albert take X-rays of the shorted superconducting dipole magnet in sector 3-4 in the Large Hadron Collider's underground tunnel.Maximilien Brice / CERN

In a status update, CERN says engineers suspect that a scrap of metal, perhaps left behind during the upgrade, fell down a vertical tube and made contact with a cable that connects one of the LHC's powerful dipole magnets with a diode box below. The question is, what to do about it. Here's what CERN says:

"The operations team is now exploring three main options to fix the short: inject a controlled pulse of current to try to melt the offending object; try to dislodge the object by altering the flow of helium in that region; partially warm up the sector and open the magnet interconnect concerned. Though the third option would allow direct access to the diode box, the warm-up, intervention and subsequent cool-down would take around six weeks."

X-ray scans of the wiring around the suspected fault have been inconclusive, and CERN is still weighing its options. In the meantime, cosmic mysteries such as the nature of dark matter and the possibility of extra dimensions will have to wait a while longer to be addressed.



— Alan Boyle