Helium leak forces two-month shutdown at LHC

On the heels of an earlier transformer glitch, world's largest particle collider is closed temporarily on just day nine of its operation.

The world's largest particle collider has been shut down for at least two months due to a large helium leak stemming from an incident Friday, officials said.

The Large Hadron Collider is a gigantic particle accelerator located in a nearly 17-mile-long circular tunnel along the French-Swiss border about 330 feet underground. It was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN.

Images: Where particles, physics theories collide
Click image for gallery on the Large Hadron Collider. Maximilien Brice for CERN

The collider was officially launched on September 10 when the first particle beam was successfully sent around the full circuit. On the heels of an earlier malfunction due to a faulty transformer , CERN said Friday's incident was most likely caused "by a faulty electrical connection between two magnets, which probably melted at high current leading to mechanical failure." At no time was there any risk to people, CERN added.

Although a full investigation is still under way, CERN announced Saturday that the section of the tunnel will have to be "warmed up" for repairs, which means the LHC will be down for at least two months.

The LHC experiments involve accelerating two beams of subatomic particles--called hadrons--in opposite directions to more than 99.9 percent the speed of light. Smashing the beams together will create showers of new particles for physicists to study using special detectors.

The result is expected to push forward theories of particle physics and the fundamental building blocks of all things. The LHC was designed primarily as an attempt to product the "Higgs boson," a hypothetical particle whose observation would help confirm some of the predictions in the Standard Model of physics. Other currently theoretical particles may also be observed for the first time, including microscopic black holes.

Some have theorized that the black hole experiments could go wrong with catastrophic results, but CERN has done extensive safety analysis and has repeatedly denied any such threat.

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Michelle Meyers, associate editor, has been writing and editing CNET News stories since 2005. But she's still working to shed some of her old newspaper ways, first honed when copy was actually cut and pasted. When she's not fixing typos and tightening sentences, she's working with reporters on story ideas, tracking media happenings, or freshening up CNET News' home page.


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