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Friday, 08 June 2007 21:03

Big Bang test delayed at CERN's LHC until 2008

Scientists at the  proton-proton Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator and collider will postpone a test that could help solve the mystery of what happened a few nanoseconds after the Big Bang.

The LHC, which will become the world’s largest particle physics laboratory when it begins limited operations in early 2008, is located at Geneva, Switzerland’s CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research).

The test of the LHC system, which will recreate conditions that existed a few nanoseconds (one nanosecond equals one-billionth of one second) after the Big Bang occurred, has been delayed until late April or early May of 2008 due to, what has been reported as, some minor problems with parts of a large array of equipment.

Specifically, small-sized magnets—not the larger 20-ton magnets, 24 in all, that are located around the tunnel—were damaged when placed under pressure as part of a process to test the LHC. The work to repair and replace the damage has caused delays.

The Big Bang is thought by cosmologists to have occurred about 14.7 billion years ago: the explosive event that started our universe.

When the LHC does begin full operations, which has been postponed from November 2007 to the summer of 2008, it will also become the world’s highest energy particle physics accelerator/collider when operating at 7 TeV (teraelectron volt), where one TeV (or, one trillion electron volts) equals 1.60217646 × 10**-7 joules. It will possess a collision-energy of 14 TeV

Back in April 2007, another problem occurred when one of the large 20-ton magnets was damaged when it was lifted off of its mountings, which forced an evacuation when the tunnel filled with helium gas and dust. The problem, brought about by mistakes in the construction of the magnets and anchors, caused a delay when all 24 magnets had to be repaired or upgraded.

The LHC will operate by accelerating sub-atomic particles, specifically protons, to high speeds near the speed of light (the accelerator part) and then by smashing these particles together (the collider part), all within a 17-mile (27-kilometer) underground concrete-lined tunnel. It is an international project involving scientists from the 26 member-countries of CERN, along with several other countries.

It has been under construction for about 15 years, where the critical parts of the project are located between 50 and 150 meters (165 and 490 feet) below the surface of the Earth. The underground complex crosses the borders between France and Switzerland, but the majority of it is located in France. Once fully operational, the LHC is expected to have a lifetime of about 15 years.

The LHC website is: http://lhc.web.cern.ch/lhc/.

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