A plan to add more safety features to the Large Hadron Collider will have the world's largest collider offline until the second half of the year — months later than the previously planned northern springtime relaunch.
The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (known as CERN) announced last week that physicists are slated to shoot particle beams around the collider's 17-mile, underground vacuum-sealed tube in September, with particle collisions expected to begin in October.
Late last September, CERN disclosed that a faulty electrical connection had knocked the Hadron Collider offline for two months. Then just a few days later, the organisation noted that the collider would be down until this spring.
Before the collider's downtime was extended, James Gillies, a spokesman for the CERN, said it would cost US$21 million (NZ$40 million) or more to get the collider operational again. It's not clear what that figure is now that work will continue on the machine through the northern summer.
The problem with the electrical connection occurred about two weeks after a faulty transformer was replaced in the collider. The transformer went down the day after the collider's first test run, which Harvey Newman, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology, called "one of the great engineering milestones of mankind".
In an online report issued last week, CERN noted that the collider's downtime is being extended so engineers can add a safety system for the machine's magnet splices, install new pressure-relief valves, and apply tighter safety and scheduling constraints.
"The schedule we have now is without a doubt the best for the LHC and for the physicists waiting for data," said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. "It is cautious, ensuring that all the necessary work is done on the LHC before we start up, yet it allows physics research to begin this year."
The collider was built to shoot two particle beams around the tube in opposite directions on a collision course. Smashing the beams together will create showers of new particles that should re-create conditions in the universe just moments after its conception, giving scientists the chance to answer one of humanity's oldest questions: How was the universe created?
Controversy has swirled around the collider and the experiments being done there. Rumours circulated around the internet that the experiments might destroy the universe by accidentally creating a black hole that would suck everything and everyone into it.
Under the Big Bang theory, many scientists believe that, more than 13 billion years ago, an amazingly dense object the size of a coin expanded into the universe that we know now — with planets, stars, black holes and life. Some people fear that by smashing the particle beams together in the collider, a similar cataclysmic reaction might occur, vapourising the earth or sucking it into a black hole that would shoot it out into an alternate universe.
CERN and other scientific bodies maintain that this won't happen.