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Why Did They Need to Turn Off the Large Hadron Collider?

Meet the Large Hadron Collider or LHC, and it is CERN’s most prized possession to date. The machine was constructed to such complexity and sophistication so that scientists could study the Big Bang Theory. But did you know that despite its complexity, a simple fluke can cause it to malfunction?

The Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, was shut down as its temperature rose exponentially. Upon investigation, the rise in temperature was caused by a bird accidentally dropping a piece of baguette in it.

The Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. It was created by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and is on the same underground tunnel that houses the Large Electron-Positron Collider. The tunnel was constructed under France and Switzerland, around 50 to 175 meters down. (Source: Britannica)

The LHC consists of a 27-kilometer ring of superconducting electromagnets with several accelerating structures, boosting the energy of particles as it travels in it. Two high-energy particle beams travel at close to the speed of light before they are made to collide with each other. These beams travel at opposite beam pipes maintained at an ultrahigh vacuum environment.

The beams are guided by the magnets built from coils of special electric cables, operating in a superconducting state. For this reason, the magnets need to be kept at a specific temperature that is colder than outer space, about negative 271.3 degrees celsius.

The accelerator uses a variety of magnets to direct the beams and ensure that the beams collide. It includes 1,232 dipole magnets that are 15 meters long to bend the beams, 392 quadrupole magnets that are 5 to 7 meters long to focus the beams, and another magnet to squeeze the particles together, increasing their chances of colliding.

To put this into perspective, it is like firing two needles 10 kilometers away from each other and expecting them to hit each other halfway. (Source: CERN)

What is the Purpose of the LHC?

The LHC project was created to understand the fundamental nature of matter. Scientists believe that re-creating the extreme conditions that occurred in the first few moments of our universe will help us understand the Big Bang Theory. (Source: Britannica)

The project is the most expensive, with over £4 billion invested. And the primary reason CERN created the machine was to help us expand our understanding of our universe. The LHC could enable many scientists to discover other things not previously known to humanity. To date, there are over 2,000 papers relating to particle physics have been written with the help of the machine.

The LHC was also known to have proved a 1964 theory from physicist Peter Higgs called the Higgs Boson. In 2013, physicists discovered a Higgs boson using the LHC. Its mass was about 126 giga-electron volts. (Source: Maine News Online)

The Controversial Baguette 

In 2008, the LHC planned to emulate the Big Bang, recreating what the scientists thought were the conditions present when the universe was created. CERN put the plan on hold as scientists detected an issue. (Source: The Guardian)

A part of the LHC started to overheat. They discovered that it was because of a piece of baguette. Upon further investigation, the scientists found that a bird dropped a piece of baguette on one of the outdoor machinery of the LHC. The bread caused an issue with the power, which led to the malfunction of the cooling system. (Source: The Register)

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