The world’s largest particle accelerator may be one of humanity’s greatest quests to unravel the fabric of the universe and to find out what it’s made of, but nature is clearly having none of it. A suicidal beech marten, a member of the weasel family, decided last Friday that it fancied a nibble on some of the intricate electronics within the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
This act of early morning scientific sabotage culminated in a “severe electrical perturbation” that led to the high-voltage demise of the critter. The damage to the chomped-on transformer will take several days to repair – a much more severe incident compared to the last time an animal decided to disrupt the greatest physics experiment in history.
Back in 2009, a bird was said to have dropped a fragment of a baguette onto a compensating capacitor, causing the cooling systems to fail and temperatures to suddenly rise. This was fixed in a matter of hours, whereas the shenanigans of this adventurous weasel will mean that, even after the transformer connections are repaired, the entire LHC will have to be checked over.
This transgression, as noted by their official daily report, was part of a series of misfortunes in what has been summarized as “not the best week for LHC!” Several recent technical faults had already demanded a stoppage of several months, and this latest problem has only exacerbated things.
The secrets of the universe will have to wait. Maximilien Brice/CERN
A series of papers published on a recent “blip” in particle collision data has hinted at the possibility of a new subatomic particle discovery, and researchers are keen to confirm or refute this hypothesis. The delay certainly hasn’t helped them on this quest, and they are unlikely to be fans of weasels anytime soon.
These glitches aren’t without precedent. In 1996, the Large Electron-Positron Collider, the predecessor to the modern 27-kilometer (16.8-mile) circumference ring, couldn’t fire any particles around its halo, baffling the researchers. Eventually, it was discovered that two misplaced empty bottles of beer were interrupting the paths of the particles.
Although somewhat aggrieved by the meddling weasel’s final act, the LHC operators are not too concerned about the damage this time around, particularly when compared to what happened when the LHC was first switched on. Back at its inauguration, a rogue spark led to a gas explosion within the tunnel, and the particle accelerator was inoperable for over a year.
If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s this: Whether you are human or weasel, it’s probably not a good idea to chew on the most powerful particle accelerator in history.