The $7 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest particle collider operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), was recently shut down due to a “rogue weasel.” The small furry animal ran inside it and chewed on a power cable, thus creating electrical problems that necessitated shutdown. This incident occurred just less than a week after CERN began data-taking with the Large Hadron Collider for 2016 in April 23.
A day before the report, the 17-mile long Large Hadron Collider had been operating to find the Higgs Boson, the fundamental subatomic particle that the particle accelerator helped discover back in 2012, when problems with the Large Hadron Collider started to occur. With a gigantic superconducting machine designed to smash protons against each other at near light speed starting to show power fluctuations, engineers were forced to shut the Large Hadron Collider down for the night to investigate what happened.
“We had electrical problems, and we are pretty sure this was caused by a small animal,” says Arnaud Marsollier, head of press for CERN. “We are in the countryside, and of course we have wild animals everywhere.”
Outside the grounds of the Large Hadron Collider, the culprit was found dead in a burned mess near the power cable it had gnawed through, fried by the power of the particle accelerator. At first, it was thought to be a weasel since it looked like one. Upon closer inspection of the charred remains, the small mammal was then found out to not be a weasel, but a marten — a relative of the weasel common in the Northern Hemisphere.
This is not the first time that animals have messed around with the Large Hadron Collider. In 2009, a bird was believed to have dropped a baguette onto the electrical systems, causing much concern over malfunctions and electrical problems. Animal-instigated mishaps and inconveniences aren’t exclusive to the Large Hadron Collider either. Back in 2006, a gaze of raccoons partook in what was described as a “coordinated attack” on a particle accelerator in Illinois.
Such snags are not uncommon with the Large Hadron Collider. During its years of active operation, it has encountered various problems since its construction and initial tests. Accidents and other interruptions have been known to occur from time to time, and there’s also the much talked about threat of a black hole being formed within the Large Hadron Collider during the search for the Higgs Boson — something which Stephen Hawking was said to have warned about. In principle, a black hole can indeed be made on Earth, so long as there’s enough energy and ill-advised bravado.
A whole lot goes into the operation of the Large Hadron Collider. As the largest particle collider ever, not to mention the largest single machine in the world as well, the amount of electricity required to get the Large Hadron Collider going is staggering at around 120 MW, which is equivalent to the power consumption of 120,000 average California homes. The Large Hadron Collider also requires liquid helium to be pumped through it to keep it cool while it’s on, which has not been helped by the global helium shortage in recent years.
The whole purpose of the Large Hadron Collider is to answer fundamental open questions in physics that can help look beyond the standard model of particle physics, bringing more sense to man’s understanding of the building blocks that made the universe itself. The Large Hadron Collider can also help connect the dots between quantum mechanics and general relativity, which is something that has been hotly debated on by physicists since the days of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr.
[Photo by Keystone, Martial Trezzini/AP Images]