LHC electrical failure will keep it down for 2+ months

By Phil Plait | September 20, 2008 5:26 pm

By now you’ve probably heard that there was a problem with the LHC; it looks like an electrical connection between two magnets shorted out, causing a failure which allowed about a ton of liquid helium to escape. The helium is what cools the magnets to near absolute zero, and without it the magnets lose their superconducting ability.

To fix the problem, they’ll have to warm up the loop and get inside to look around, and that means they have to switch off for at least two months, which is a major bummer to say the least. But the good news is that the failure was not catastrophic. The damage is most likely minimal, and the worst problem is just being offline for so long.

I’m sure all the blogs and other media will be following this problem as it goes.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science
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Comments (104)

  1. Kimpatsu

    The End of the World(TM) has been delayed by two months.
    At least that’s what the woo-woos will claim. I’m just glad it’s not too major a fault.

  2. SkepTTic

    Oh well…at least the earth has at least two more months to exist :-)

  3. actually, i’ll bet that the woo-woo’s will claim that this story is a cover-up, and that the LHC was shut off because it created a black hole that ate part of the electronics; or their maintenance guy; or something.

  4. Praise [insert deity here]. We’ve been prevented from annihilating the Earth ahead of the divine schedule. If anybody’s going to bring about the end of the world, he’s going to do it according to the carefully orchestrated plan of [deity].

  5. Bubbaj

    Phil, how many graduate students do they put inside the LHC to take pictures of the particle collisions? 😉

  6. «bønez_brigade»

    From the story: “The fire brigade were called out after a tonne of liquid helium leaked into the tunnel at Cern, near Geneva. ”

    So, I’m thinking, communication amongst the fire brigade must’ve sounded somewhat humorous to onlookers and to each other (if they entered said tunnel, of course)…

  7. Wendy

    I just want them to start smashing stuff together already!! Lol

  8. Funkopolis

    They must be running a lot of Windows boxes to have have a reboot time that long…

  9. I blame the GRBs.

    The article I saw on MSN yesterday was quite confusing. I think at first the headline they used implied that the “Leak” was the source of their information. Then they said (I think) that the leak may have been caused by the diagnostic procedure that detected it. How did that happen? I guess funny things can happen at very low temperatures and very high voltages, even when they don’t involve strangelets or mini-black holes.

  10. IVAN3MAN

    The Almighty Sod in his infinite wisdom declared it thus: “The degree of failure is directly proportional to the effort made and the need for success”.

  11. Considering how complex a machine the LHC is this kind of malfunction was only a matter of time. It’s unfortunate they will be down for so long though.

  12. Dammit, Herman.

    (Charles Stross reference, just in case anyone doesn’t get it)

  13. JD

    Out of curiosity, what would happen if the LHC had catastrophic failure? Would it blow up from all the liquid gases expanding?

  14. Huh.. anyone who’s well read knows that the ignition (?) of the LHC will cause everyone to experience a short jump into the future..
    http://www.scifi.com/scifiwire/index.php?category=0&id=60256

    J/P=?

  15. Watashino

    Two more months before the world ends? Man! And I thought Jesus was late!

  16. Quiet Desperation
  17. I got this: What we need to do is find a way to convert the buzz generated by your book into energy.

    It’s amazing people don’t come to me to solve their problems more often.

  18. «bønez_brigade»
  19. «bønez_brigade»

    BTW, the real-time temp map is definitely working:
    lhc.web.cern.ch/lhc

    Note color of Sector 34 (3-4?).

    Their compass seems to be running a little hot, though.

  20. «bønez_brigade»

    Methinks that will post several times, and I claim no psychic powers. I didn’t even get a “your comment is awaiting moderation”, though. Weird.

  21. Levi

    This proves it’s a hoax! The LHC doesn’t really exist. It is a fabrication by the French and Swiss governments. Instead of spending billions of dollars to actually build the thing, they only made it LOOK like they were building something, and kept all the money for themselves! How CONVENIENT that the “particle collider” will not be able to collide particles! I hope French President Nicolas Sarkozy is enjoying his new stripper-filled mansion.

    Also notice how you don’t see any Higgs bosons in the pictures? If this thing is supposed to be discovering Higgs bosons, HOW COME WE DON’T SEE ANY HIGGS BOSONS IN THE PICTURES, MR. SCIENTIST GUY??? HUH???

  22. Levi

    P.S. In case it wasn’t clear, that was parody, coming from an ex-conspiracy nutjob (I used to be a 9/11 Truther…*shudder*).

  23. I guess this was not totally unexpected. New technology and all…

    John Paradox:
    That looks like it might be good from the blurb. The only drawback – Brannon Braga. I liked Threshold but thought the episodes of ST that he worked on were not that great.

  24. Heinz Pierce

    What they need is a whole boatload of balloons. I bet people would pay a fortune for those balloons filled with LHC failure helium.

  25. And now the Cubs are heading to the playoffs! We are THAT much closer to the end of the world!

  26. Emmit

    I’m just wondering if energy from this particle thingy could run a Nascar engine. And if the particles don’t really collide – you know, just bounce off each other – is that evidence of antimatter?

  27. Naomi

    Damn, hey? Is the official opening thing on the 21st of October still happening? Because if THAT is pushed back by two months, then that makes it the 21st of December, and if it was 2012 and not 2008… well, the reaction from the nutjobs would be HILARIOUS XD

  28. Scoripous

    I just was watching an episode of MegaBuilders on the Discovery Channel this afternoon where they discussed building this back in 2005.

    From what I remember(before I fell asleep), the reason why it’s taking so long before they can get in to fix things is due to the radiation around the magnets themselves. I remember the show commenting that once put together, these magnets would rarely be opened due to the radiation from slamming the particles together.

  29. @Scorpius,
    They haven’t actually slammed any particles together yet. The reason it will take so long is because the magnets are cooled to near absolute zero. It will take several weeks to warm that section up so they can get in to repair it, and then it will take time to cool it down again. The radiation might be a problem once they start the actual experiments, but I couldn’t tell you.

  30. @Naomi,
    That would be too funny indeed, although, I must say, in he back of my mind, there might be just the teeniest niggling question… I’d have lots of booze on hand!

  31. Cody B

    i guess theyll have to hold off on their big bang black hole machine for a while.

  32. Will

    “Okay… Switch it on.”

    >clickwhrrrrrrrrrrrpopsilence<

    "Is it supposed to do that?"

  33. Thomas Siefert

    Darth Vader type of voice: “Okay… Switch it on.”

    >clickwhrrrrrrrrrrrpopsilence<

    Chip n' Dale type of voice: “Is it supposed to do that?”

  34. madge

    First of all….SQUEEEE! Dr Phil Plait is today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day! HOW COOL IS THAT?!
    Second of all the LHC news is certaainly a bummer but not entirely unexpected. Dr Brian (swoon) Cox said earlier (with regard to the “sky is gonna fall” crowd) that the greatest danger the LHC was to itself. Either the failsafe systems would kick in ( “The computer says “no” “) Or there would be damage to the magnets.

  35. conspiracynutcracker

    “The fire brigade were called out after a tonne of liquid helium leaked into the tunnel at Cern, near Geneva.”

    Geez, I wonder how the fire brigade handled that. Did they go in there with oxygen masks and insulation suits to contain the helium spill?

  36. wtlloyd

    Hey! You made Astronomy Picture of the Day!!

    Congrats!

    (Although I’d rather be looking at a pic of a really cool nebula….)

  37. Why haven’t the naysayers come out with an I told you so this why we can’t trust the scienticians to run this thing? Maybe I shouldn’t be provocative.

  38. Elias Friedman

    Hey Phil! I’m sure you already knew because they probably had to ask your permission, but you’re on today’s APOD! Cool dude! Good work.

  39. Daniel

    gosh darn those GRBs and micro black holes! 😉

  40. almo

    Why do they have to warm the whole loop up, is it just because you freeze to death in the temperature? Can’t they just go in wearing spacesuits?
    I’m missing something here…

  41. Ad Hominid

    Anyone up for some premium post-grad level nut-jobbery?

    Well, I’ve got it anyway:

    Science Question: Can A Black Hole Created By The Large Hadron Collider Fulfill Bible Prophecy?

  42. Funny thing about eggs… American ones are white (as in Dr Phil’s picture) whereas here in the UK people only want brown ones… they all taste the same…

  43. Just spotted a pic of phil with eggs on the APOD page

  44. Grand Lunar

    Too bad about this problem. But, I suppose nearly every new big machine has trouble when it starts out. (I saw “nearly”, because according to history, the Enterprise, CVN-65, made a clean sweep of her builders trials; there was nothing to fix).

    Wow, a ton of liquid helium? I can imagine the frustration of loosing the coolant. Least when this stuff leaks out, they don’t have to mop the floors. Just the ceiling!

  45. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I wonder if Fermilab will be of two minds about this: ‘Bummer – but hey, two more months to snatch the higgson from under Cern’s nose.’ [Murray Gell-Mann uses “higgson” in one of his books, and as it is shorter than the clunkier alternatives…]

    I also wonder how much two more months mean on top of earlier LHC delays – isn’t the Fermilab prediction that they just might pull it off, even before this happened?

    Then they said (I think) that the leak may have been caused by the diagnostic procedure that detected it. How did that happen?

    Is this the article you mean? It seems to me it merely describes that testing the supposedly functioning replacement transformer caused the leak.

    The article states that they don’t know what caused it at the time, but it looks like they simply speculate in an humongous short circuit. At those current levels, who wouldn’t?

    I guess funny things can happen at very low temperatures and very high voltages, even when they don’t involve strangelets or mini-black holes.

    And not so funny things can happen at the more conventional event of [very] large currents, regardless of potential.

    Regarding high voltages, the magnets, especially the superconducting ones, wouldn’t necessarily be subject to them. I assume at least the later could be an unnecessary engineering problem.

    Remains the detectors, the power grid, and of course the beam itself that could be at, or work over, high voltages. Yes, I assume some transformers in LHC’s very high power grid would preferentially be subjected to high line voltages to keep line losses (and sizes!) down, but I dunno about their actual construction.

    Did they go in there with oxygen masks and insulation suits to contain the helium spill?

    LOLscience!

    I wonder how much oil and gas is produced for every ton helium though. IIRC helium shortage/cost has been a concern from time to time. Luckily for science we use more fossil resources than ever! :-

  46. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Chip n’ Dale type of voice: “Is it supposed to do that?”

    LOL! As the US names for comic characters aren’t always familiar I first read that as “Chippendale type of voice”.

    But IIRC the show concept as it has been described to me, I assume that the likelihood is above average that some of the voices may come out pretty much the same.

    [Luckily now the tradition where I live is to forgo translation/modification to local language. But especially old Disney characters can be associated by earlier or still existing local names.]

  47. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I wonder how much oil and gas is produced for every ton helium

    D’oh! Those who reads this (when the comment gets out of moderation) will notice that I’m perversely inconsistent with my just above that stated preference for shortest possible terms.

    I guess I’ll have to say “for every Mg helium” then. … yes, that’s much better. (¬_¬)

  48. Brandon

    hehe, nice picture on apod BA.

  49. A Chippendale voice?

    Hmmm… that would be interesting… but this is a family board, so …. hmmmm…

  50. arto7

    I was never worried about 2012 as the doomsayers were reading the Mayan calendar incorrectly. It should have been read as 12/20 – oh oh…

  51. IVAN3MAN

    Dr. Phil Plait, are those eggs in today’s APOD picture “Free Range”?

  52. Dan

    I came across this comic and thought it was pretty funny (totally incorrect) but funny

    http://img393.imageshack.us/img393/1348/largehadroncollidertp3.jpg

    But hey, who knows?

  53. snakehandler

    I notice a lot of posters are find this incident a source of humor but personally I’m a little worried. When I first heard this (the 2+ month delay (maybe, likely more) because of the short/helium leak, etc), my immediate and cynical thought was: is NASA is charge? Yes, this is a large, really complex machine, and these things will happen, but A) it shouldn’t have happened so soon, and B) the delay, perfectly understandable in terms of the physics, is disquieting. What this means is that every time something like this happens, the whole thing is going to be shut down for who knows how long. What we have is a serial system and no redundancies and what Law is it that tells you this is just asking for trouble?

    This is no way to run a factory, folks (using a simile to inject a bit of humor and yes, I know full well, it is not a real “factory.”)

    What I’m saying is that if these things keep happening, at some point this machine is not going to be an economical investment for science. It will be scrap metal. I have the dreadful thought that at some point we will learn that there were warnings about this and if they had spent a few billion more the design could have been much improved and these incidents would happen far less or there would at least be workarounds . . .

    So am I saying, Shuttle II: the Sequel? Well, the thought has crossed my mind.

    But maybe a few years hence we will all look back on this one-time never to be repeated incident and laugh while we get drunk and goofy as we juggle Higgs bosons. (and yes, I know that is not really possible or even meaningful — just being whimsical).

  54. Thomas Siefert

    @snakehandler: You’re a real “the glass is half empty” kinda person eh?

    The LHC is still being commissioned, things like these happen all the time during commissioning. You learn from the incident and fix it.

    Note: I’m a “the glass is half empty” person myself, the “the glass is half full” people die from thirst halfway across the desert. :-)

  55. snakehandler

    Well, as a fellow “glass is half empty” person (and yes, I am comfortable with the label), I certainly hope you are correct. Few things would make me happier if that were the case.

  56. David

    @snakehandler

    Welcome to real science.

    While the public at large might scratch their heads at NASA, those of us who have built our own scientific instruments understand the real difficulties involved.

  57. I have a question concerning helium if anyone can answer it.

    I heard somewhere that the supply of helium is getting low, and once we’ve used it all up it’s gone for good. After all, we can’t make helium as it’s an element. So where does our helium supply come from? (and don’t say from party balloons!)

    (The above to be read in an imagined squaky voice.)

  58. Squeaky voice, that is, not squaky. Although squaky will do if you can manage it.

  59. Beelzebud

    You want a true woo-woo scenario? Here it is:

    This is proof, that the world did in fact end, and we are all living in the black hole that the LHC created!

  60. Viewer 3

    I’m sure it’s been said, but you just KNOW that the religious fanatics are now claiming that this is absolute proof that we “shouldn’t be messing with” this sort of stuff. Because you know, us looking for answers to our existence through science is against God’s will, and it getting busted when the time comes to turn it on is a clear sign that He will strike down any attempt to do so.

    I try to never openly mock religion or anything, but come on. Cox 3:16 says “And He shall destroy the LHC and in two months it shall be rebuilt!”

  61. John Phillips, FCD

    @Elwood Herring: the source of Helium is natural gas wells, with some having as much as 7% helium, though around 1% is commoner. So yes, as our supplies of natural gas run out, so will a ready supply of helium.

    Helium in such locations is from the nuclear decay of uranium, especially U238, and thorium. There is also a very small percentage in the atmosphere, some 0.0005% IIRC.

  62. harpe éolienne

    couldn’t we somehow extract helium from the universe? after all it is the 2nd most abundant element out there, isn’t it?

  63. @ Elwood Herring

    Helium gas is extracted by fractional distillation from natural gas, which contains up to 7% helium. Nearly all helium on Earth is the result of radioactive decay of uranium, thorium, and radium, which emit alpha particles to which electrons readily combine to form the element helium. It is estimated that up to 3000 tonnes of helium is produced this way per year throughout the Earth’s lithosphere (crust). The helium gas is trapped in a similar way by non-permeable rock layer, just like natural gas is, which is why helium is often found in pockets of natural gas underground.

    As for “make[ing]” helium, it can be synthesized by bombardment of lithium or boron with high-energy protons, but this process is uneconomical.

  64. amphiox

    Viewer 3: Your conjecture concerning god’s will should be repeatable. So if they fix the LHC, and it breaks again, and again, and again. . . . I might be inclined to start thinking that there’s something to it around the 10th time or so, if the 10 incidents were sufficiently similar.

    Ivan3Man: That is a fascinating factoid about “making” He. In fact, that boils down to “transmuting” hydrogen and lithium/boron into helium, without nuclear fusion! Alchemy that works!

  65. @ harpe éolienne

    It would be a much easier and cost a lot less to synthesize helium — as I have mentioned above — than attempt to extract helium from the universe because it is too rarefied in the interplanetary/interstellar medium.

  66. Thanks for the replies – I knew I’d get a good answer on this site!

  67. Hugo

    What do you want to bet some kook will claim,

    “Ah. You see? That’s God intervening to stop the world being destroyed by killer [multi-racial] holes!”

    Anyone?

  68. IVAN3MAN

    @ harpe éolienne

    However, helium is present in the lunar regolith in quantities of ten to a hundred (weight) parts per million due interaction with the solar wind, which has been accumulating on the Moon’s surface for billions of years, and 0.003 to 1 percent of this amount is the rare isotope He-3, which may prove to be a desirable fuel in thermonuclear fusion reactors.

  69. RL

    What bothers me is that the problems started 36 hours after start up but was kept quiet until API contacted CERN about rumors a week later. That leaves a bad impression about CERNs openness.

  70. snakehandler

    # David Says:
    “September 21st, 2008 at 10:15 am
    Welcome to real science. While the public at large might scratch their heads at NASA, those of us who have built our own scientific instruments understand the real difficulties involved.”

    Hi David.
    Thank you for your reply. I actually did build a couple of scientific instruments from a kit (this was a long time ago) and yes I did have problems but with a little help from someone much smarter than me, I got things working. Which may be the reason I started to study economics.

    The point I was trying to make was that big science projects like the LHC, particularly with a large political component frequently run into the dilemma of doing the project cheap vs. doing it right. Operating as they do between the boundaries of public funding and true science/engineering, there are always demands to reduce the budget, and there are always delayed realizations that the design could be improved — if management could only increase the budget. Typically politics wins and science loses and I think that is the primary reason that the Space Shuttle has such a dismal record. Hence, I was fretting out loud that maybe something similar has happened at the LHC. I certainly hope not. It’s just that historically this is a strong possibility.

    When the original SCSC was canceled I was greatly disappointed. But now watching the uninformed opinions emerging from numerous quarters that the LHC will cause the end of the world — Physicist John Cramer actually wrote a dreadful (IMO) novel (“The Einstein Bridge,” I think was the title) with just that scenario — I realize that had the thing been built in America, the protests might very well have stopped it. I actually had a supervisor at the large Aerospace company where I worked some years ago who thought the SCSC was a reactor and would melt down. Nothing I could tell him would persuade him otherwise, he was so emotional about it.

    Politics and science do not work well together. The irony is that if everyone accepted that fact, we might do a better job with these projects.

  71. Jarno

    Disappointing, of course, but then again, I’d have been surprised if there WOULDN’T have been some sort technical trouble. After all, it’s a HUGE, intricate instrument, with plenty of components that have to work together, without fail, for us to get some proton smashing goodness.

    Patience is a virtue. :)

  72. Viewer 3

    Hugo: I wouldn’t bet anything, since I said that a few posts earlier. And amphiox (and anyone else really), how would we feel if that actually happened? If the same thing happened once it was fixed, and it kept breaking over and over again for unexplained reasons? I know they’ve already found the factual reason for the breakdown and have ruled out divine intervention, but just for the sake of the fantastic… What if 5 years pass and it just keeps breaking itself every time we try to use it (for non-factual, genuinely unexplainable reasons)? Would we all suddenly turn superstitious?

  73. @Ivan3man, As for “make[ing]” helium, it can be synthesized by bombardment of lithium or boron with high-energy protons, but this process is uneconomical.

    Depends on how desperate you are to have helium balloons at kiddies parties.

  74. IVAN3MAN

    @shane

    Talking of desperate — Adults At War On Kids’ Parties

    This is why I’m glad I’m a bachelor!

  75. StevoR

    Can’t say I’m too upset about the delay.

    Bjoern asked on another thread (the “Swift captures a Gamma-ray burst” one & I’ve replied slightly differently there as well.) :

    “What makes you think the scientists at the LHC are *not* careful enough? After all, they *have* considered the opinions of the “dissenting” scientists – and have found there arguments wanting.”

    The answer is that I don’t fully trust them – or any particle or nuclear physicists. Simple as that really.

    Why not you ask?

    Well these are the same people who put our entire planet under the Shadow of the Bomb. That told us nuclear energy was fine & dandy and never mind the radioactive wastes. They told us Chernobyl was safe. Sorry Dr Brian Cox and others its nothing personal but after that little list of threats to our very existence and “Ooop-ses” in your area of study, its going to be very hard to take your reassurances on anything with less than a big pinch of salt.

    “And what makes you think there is not enough “checking”? What exactly do you expect them to do?”

    I’d like – although I don’t expect – for them to stop experimenting with these particle colliders and find alternatives that use natural cosmic rays as detectors instead. I’m all for observational science, I’m not so keen on the experimentational variety. Not when it comes to the nuclear particle physics area anyhow.

    I clicked on one link that Bjoern posted on the ‘Swift’ thread and eventually after much interesting albeit techno-babble-overloaded reading ended up at the CERN-LHC web site where I was able to contact them and ask them directly :

    “Has the LHC experiment had any ethical review by trained ethicists – if so what were the results, if not then why not?”

    It’ll be interesting to see what if any response I get back from them but that’s one thing I’d really like to see them do – conduct an ethical review carried out by ethicists NOT self-interested nuclear physicists.

    Bjoern : “And do you also suggest ethical reviews when people build new planes and cars? AFAIK, the risk of dying in a car accident or plane crash is far higher than the risk of being eaten by a Black Hole created by the LHC…”

    No but then these are self-evidently totally different cases with consequences that are vastly different. Okay, your car or plane can sometimes crash killing a few people – the LHC could potentially – a very, very remote chance sure but what folks are worried about – destroy our entire planet.

    Now ok, from what I’ve read I think its 99.999 % certain that the LHC will NOT destroy the world. But given the seriousness of what’s at stake though I’d still rather we didn’t turn it on and take even that 0.0001% chance. NOT turning it on means the chances of the LHC destroying us all become absolutely zero. In this case to quote the tried old cliche that remains true nonetheless : “Better safe than sorry.”

    I love astronomy and I’m usually all in favour of science but the LHC is an exception to that general rule – along with using science to build bigger and worse nuclear bombs & other WMDs. Science is a double-edged sword and I think we do need to use care in how we wield that sword.

  76. Darrin

    Stevor, you’re being irrational. There is no chance we could destroy the world with the LHC. None. Zip. Zero. Nada.

    The chances of it happening are about the same as the chances of having the sun go supernova. While Mars crashes into us. In an alternate dimension. While Elvis brings the chosen ones to heaven.

    Basically, ZERO. To even compare the LHC to a nuclear bomb is rather ridiculous.

    There were also people who believed the first atomic bomb would ignite the atmosphere. Obviously, we’re still here. So don’t fret about it.

  77. Bjoern

    @StevoR:
    “Well these are the same people who put our entire planet under the Shadow of the Bomb.”

    Err, no. Those people lived more than 50 years ago. Other generation, you know?

    Physicist are a *lot* more sensible to ethical problems than back then. If you haven’t noticed: a huge number of physicists is active in nuclear disarmament. And additionally you have to consider that it was *war* back then! How can you compare building a bomb for a war with building a physics experiment in peace time?!?

    “That told us nuclear energy was fine & dandy and never mind the radioactive wastes.”

    That radioactive waste is a problem, right. But first, I am not aware of any physicist who has ever denied that this waste is a problem (if you are aware of such physicists, please provide names and citations). Second, that waste poses a bit of a danger – but not a really big one. After all, we have rather good ways to store it, and even now we have already some ways to recycle it. It is to be expected that this recycling will become better in the future.

    “They told us Chernobyl was safe.”

    Err, that were engineers, not physicists, AFAIK. And additionally, that only were Russian engineers. If you asked engineers from other countries, like Germany (where I live) or the USA even 30 years ago, they would have told you rightaway that Chernobyl had *not* very good safety standards, and that a disaster happening there isn’t very unlikely.

    “…conduct an ethical review carried out by ethicists NOT self-interested nuclear physicists.”

    You continue to ignore the fact that not even the physicists themselves would also be in danger if something happened there, but also their families. Do you really think that all the thousands physicists living there have no problem with putting their own lives and that of their families at a risk, however small it would be? Man, you *really* have a bad attitude towards physicists…

    When I first read your concerns, I thought that you are simply misinformed and therefore have some security issues and perhaps simply fear. But I more and more realize now that you are impervious to arguments. And you apparently imagine physicists as people who only think of getting new knowledge about the universe at whatever cost, and don’t care in the least about other humans.

    “I’d like – although I don’t expect – for them to stop experimenting with these particle colliders and find alternatives that use natural cosmic rays as detectors instead.”

    Are you willing to wait billions of years or more instead of just a few years for the physical results, and willing to pay a *lot* more than for the LHC?

    Natural cosmics rays with energies comparable to the LHC are *rare*. *Very* rare. If you consider the whole earth and the whole time it existed, there are a *lot* of them. But if you consider only, say, 100 square kilometers (which would be a *huge* detector area, *much* larger than anything we have built so far!), there are only *very* few such high-energy particles per year (I don’t have the exact numbers here, but surely less than 10 – whereas at the LHC you have billions per year!). Add to that that you obviously can’t suck the air out of such a large detector, hence you have the additional complexity of the cosmic rays interacting with all the different air molecules. And the detector is so large that you can’t get accurate position measurements. etc. etc. etc.

    Do you begin to understand that using cosmic rays instead of the LHC is a nice idea, but simply not possible?

  78. Which weighs more: a ton of liquid helium or a ton of gaseous helium?

  79. Thomas Seifert:

    Note: I’m a “the glass is half empty” person myself, the “the glass is half full” people die from thirst halfway across the desert.

    What about the “the glass holds twice the volume that is required” type people?

  80. And sorry about the “Siefert” misspelling above.

  81. Shane:

    @Ivan3man, As for “make[ing]” helium, it can be synthesized by bombardment of lithium or boron with high-energy protons, but this process is uneconomical.

    Depends on how desperate you are to have helium balloons at kiddies parties.

    Besides, Hydrogen is so much easier to extract. (Just be careful with those candles?)

  82. My view of the world » Blog Archive » Large Hadron Collider broken Says:
    September 21st, 2008 at 1:00 pm
    […] From Bad Astronomy […]

    To whoever posted that I’d love to know how you found that entry. I can’t seem to find me anywhere, little suprise as I have only been going for a week. Also I thought I’d give Phil the link seeing as I read it here first :p

  83. Thomas Siefert

    What about the “the glass holds twice the volume that is required” type people?

    I would double-check the specifications and read the DesOp (Description of Operation) before I trust them. :-)

  84. BMcP

    What sucks is that we will have to listen to the doomsayers for that many more months! >.<

  85. RL

    There’s a beer commercial in all of this, somewhere.

  86. harpe éolienne

    @Ivan
    thank you for the info :-)

    http://espg.sr.unh.edu/ism/focusing.html

    it seems that in early December the Earth and all things earthbound pass through this interstellar gas focusing, although, as you said, the density of helium remains too low.

  87. IBY

    Maybe LHC has to do with the 2012 doomsday thingy, and it will keep failing until that year. :)

  88. Dr Stranglove

    Don’t worry. They discovered something and the military has to check it out first – that’s all.

    New weapons programs will be announced soon.

  89. StevoR

    @Darrin : Thanks. Maybe … I think & sure hope that you’re right. 😉

    @ Bjoern : “Well these are the same people who Err, no. Those people {put our entire planet under the Shadow of the Bomb) .. lived more than 50 years ago. Other generation, you know?”

    I know – but I’m not sure the mindset has changed that much. I hope it has, I’m just not so sure & given their record well like I said I just do not trust them.

    “Physicist are a *lot* more sensible to ethical problems than back then. If you haven’t noticed: a huge number of physicists is active in nuclear disarmament.”

    … & also a lot still work for nuclear armament and making other WMD’s with the Military. Sure there are good scientists too as well as bad ones. Its bad one’s I’m worried about – & I’d like to see the bad ones put under close watch and prevented from causing us harm. The good ones, I’d like to see well-fundedand given more authority, more attention and reward.

    ” And additionally you have to consider that it was *war* back then! How can you compare building a bomb for a war with building a physics experiment in peace time?!?”

    It was when the A-bomb was built – and thankfully Hitler’s scientists weren’t as good as ours – prob’ly coz ours were Jewish and chased out of Germany! 😉

    However, the H-bomb – far more powerful along with other variants and WMDs were made during at least notional peacetime – the Cold War. Technology does get better – and war drives a lot of rapid development too. Even initially peaceful technology can be put to military use – to kill people. Nukes are bad enough, I shudder to think at what the military applications of currently peaceful LHC experimenst may be. Black holes and Higgs Boson bombs maybe? No thanks!

    “That radioactive waste is a problem, right. But first, I am not aware of any physicist who has ever denied that this waste is a problem (if you are aware of such physicists, please provide names and citations). Second, that waste poses a bit of a danger – but not a really big one. After all, we have rather good ways to store it, and even now we have already some ways to recycle it. It is to be expected that this recycling will become better in the future.”

    Dr Edwin Teller – the inspiration for the fictional Dr Strangelove – wanted to use nukes to dig canals, blow up mountins, in mining ad nauseam. he was one who justloved nuclear power and bombs and was always keen to underplay or dismiss entirely their negatives.

    Good ways of storing nuke waste? I don’t think so! Given they’re around for billions of years I think the verdict is well and truly out – and will be for a very long time on that. The most responsible and best thing for everyone’s future is to create as little nuclear waste as possible in the first place. Medical use okay – much beyond that and we should be asking some seriously tough questions as to why we need to create it.

    “Err, that [Chernobyl was safe} were engineers, not physicists, AFAIK. And additionally, that only were Russian engineers. If you asked engineers from other countries, like Germany (where I live) or the USA even 30 years ago, they would have told you rightaway that Chernobyl had *not* very good safety standards, and that a disaster happening there isn’t very unlikely.”

    Okay I’ll give you that. But what about Three-Mile Island and Harrisberg? Have you ever seen ‘The China Syndrome ” or heard much about meltdown in nuclear reactors. Scary stuff. I’d rather they remained fiction. Using nuclear fission is a very bad idea.

    “You continue to ignore the fact that not even the physicists themselves would also be in danger if something happened there, but also their families. Do you really think that all the thousands physicists living there have no problem with putting their own lives and that of their families at a risk, however small it would be? Man, you *really* have a bad attitude towards physicists…”

    Maybe I do. As I’ve said I grew up during the Cold war when everything could be wiped out by nuclear holocaust anyday. Sadly, it still can, we -and the Russians still have more bombs than we need to destroy all life on our planet several times over – even with the treaties. Can you really blame me – or anyone else – for being a bit unhappy about the people who made the end of the planet possible?

    I don’t think the LHC people are consciously unethical or evil – but I do think they’re not trained or driven by ethics and may be blinded all too easily by the excitement of their work and the possible delusion (although I hope it isn’t a delusion) that they know enough to be safe. Are they really as smart as they think we are? Hopefully so but I’d rather not bet the world on it! 😉

    “When I first read your concerns, I thought that you are simply misinformed and therefore have some security issues and perhaps simply fear. But I more and more realize now that you are impervious to arguments.”

    Not impervious but not easily convinced either. 😉

    I am somewhat reassured by what I’bveread here and on thelinked sites incl.the LHC one but niggling doubt remains …

    “And you apparently imagine physicists as people who only think of getting new knowledge about the universe at whatever cost, and don’t care in the least about other humans.”

    No. I think most if not all of them are good people who think they’re doing the right thing – but could, just possibly could be wrong and be misplaced in their confidence.

    “Are you willing to wait billions of years or more instead of just a few years for the physical results, …

    YES! (Gee you sure walked into that one! 😉 )

    ” ..and willing to pay a *lot* more than for the LHC?”

    I don’t know if, outside of the scientific minority, most people in the wider public think the LHC is money well spent ..In fact I know a few who think its a total waste of cash.

    “Natural cosmics rays with energies comparable to the LHC are *rare*. *Very* rare. If you consider the whole earth and the whole time it existed, there are a *lot* of them. But if you consider only, say, 100 square kilometers (which would be a *huge* detector area, *much* larger than anything we have built so far!), there are only *very* few such high-energy particles per year (I don’t have the exact numbers here, but surely less than 10 – whereas at the LHC you have billions per year!). Add to that that you obviously can’t suck the air out of such a large detector, hence you have the additional complexity of the cosmic rays interacting with all the different air molecules. And the detector is so large that you can’t get accurate position measurements. etc. etc. etc.

    Do you begin to understand that using cosmic rays instead of the LHC is a nice idea, but simply not possible?”

    I do see your argument but .. if we really work at it – if we rule out tampering and rule in observing, there are lots of smart people who could I think improve things and find ways of doing them that may make that possible.

    If we don’t go ahead with the LHC then what exactly do we lose – ‘we’ meaning everyone not the handful of scientists directly involved who would goon to other things anyhow. I think we lose very little if the LHC stays off and even if particle smashers (like cloning & other dubious scientific fields) are banned or frozen for a time. Okay we wait to discover what the Higgs-boson is and work at improving our knowledge and understanding of the cosmos in other ways, we remain as we are a bit longer – and we guarantee the safety of the planet and maybe have slightly more humble, slightly more aware group of physicists who find less aggressive, less destructive and maybe less expensive ways of knowing whats out there. Would that be such a bad thing?

  90. StevoR - correcting

    D’oh! Italics stuff ups & no editing ability here.
    How #@!##@!#%$$#@! frustrating! :-(

    ———

    Bjoern : “Physicist are a *lot* more sensible to ethical problems than back then. If you haven’t noticed: a huge number of physicists is active in nuclear disarmament.”

    … & also a lot still work for nuclear armament and making other WMD’s with the Military.

    Sure there are good scientists too as well as bad ones. Its bad one’s I’m worried about – & I’d like to see the bad ones put under close watch and prevented from causing us harm. The good ones, I’d like to see well-funded and given more authority, more attention and reward.

    ” And additionally you have to consider that it was *war* back then! How can you compare building a bomb for a war with building a physics experiment in peace time?!?”

    It was when the A-bomb was built – and thankfully Hitler’s scientists weren’t as good as ours – prob’ly coz ours were Jewish and chased out of Germany! 😉

    However, the H-bomb – far more powerful along with other variants and WMDs were made during at least notional peacetime – the Cold War. Technology does get better – and war drives a lot of rapid development too. Even initially peaceful technology can be put to military use – to kill people. Nukes are bad enough, I shudder to think at what the military applications of currently peaceful LHC experimenst may be. Black holes and Higgs Boson bombs maybe? No thanks!

    Bjoern : “You continue to ignore the fact that not even the physicists themselves would also be in danger if something happened there, but also their families. Do you really think that all the thousands physicists living there have no problem with putting their own lives and that of their families at a risk, however small it would be? Man, you *really* have a bad attitude towards physicists…”

    Maybe I do. But as I’ve said I grew up during the Cold War when everything could be wiped out by nuclear holocaust anyday. Sadly, it still can, we -and the Russians still have more bombs than we need to destroy all life on our planet several times over – even with the treaties. Can you really blame me – or anyone else – for being a bit unhappy and untrusting about the people who made the end of the planet possible?

    I don’t think the LHC people are consciously unethical or evil – but I do think they’re not trained in or driven by ethics and sowe need tocoinsder thethical aswll asscientigfic perspective. I also worry that the LHC folks may be blinded all too easily by the excitement of their work and the possible delusion (although I hope it isn’t a delusion!) that they know enough to be safe.

    Are they really as smart as they think they are?
    Hopefully so but I’d rather not bet the world on it!

    “When I first read your concerns, I thought that you are simply misinformed and therefore have some security issues and perhaps simply fear. But I more and more realize now that you are impervious to arguments.”

    Not impervious but not easily convinced either.

    Actually I am somewhat reassured by what I’ve read here and on thelinked sites incl.the LHC one, (Thanks again for the link! :-) ) but a litle niggling doubt remains …

    We’ll omly really know for 100% certainty when the LHC is finally turned on – or shut down.

  91. SteveoR said,Okay I’ll give you that. But what about Three-Mile Island and Harrisberg? Have you ever seen ‘The China Syndrome ” or heard much about meltdown in nuclear reactors. Scary stuff. I’d rather they remained fiction. Using nuclear fission is a very bad idea.

    Three-Mile Island was at Harrisburg. One incident in which there were no deaths, injuries or cases of radiation sickness or cancer. Not one.
    “The China Syndrome” was movie. Entertainment. Fiction. Not true.
    Do you realise that coal power stations produce more radioactive waste than nukes? Not to mention green house gases. Did you know that thousands of people every year die in the production of coal?

    BTW, what is wrong with cloning? Armies of supermen? Lack or genetic diversity? God wouldn’t like it? All straw men IMHO.

  92. Buzz Parsec

    Google “strategic Helium reserve” The US had a billion cubic feet (or a billion cubic meters? Believe it or not, the web is ambiguous) of Helium stashed in some old gas wells in Texas, but in 1995 Congress decided it was too expensive to maintain, and ordered the BLM to “liquidate” it. I don’t think they meant “liquify”, and I don’t know how much is still there and how much has been allowed to escape into the atmosphere, where it rises to the top and eventually evaporates into space). I have heard recently that there is a helium shortage and that is one reason they’ve decided to use pumps instead of helium pressurization in the rocket engines for Orion and Altair. Thank you, Newt Gingrich.

  93. Bjoern

    @StevoR:
    Let’s try an analogy. Lots of research is going on in biology and medicine involving bacteria and viruses, many of which could be (or become) quite deadly (and could perhaps wipe out humanity completely) if they are somehow released. Do you also say that this research shouldn’t be done? If yes, how many e-mails etc. have you written so far to the people conducting such research?

    “Dr Edwin Teller – the inspiration for the fictional Dr Strangelove – wanted to use nukes to dig canals, blow up mountins, in mining ad nauseam.”

    Well, yes, Teller was nuts in some ways. But remember, my question was about the dangers of nuclear waste, not nuclear bombs…

    “I also worry that the LHC folks may be blinded all too easily by the excitement of their work and the possible delusion (although I hope it isn’t a delusion!) that they know enough to be safe.”

    But the safety of the LHC was (also) judged by an *independent* commision, not (only) by the “LHC folks”.

    “I don’t know if, outside of the scientific minority, most people in the wider public think the LHC is money well spent ..In fact I know a few who think its a total waste of cash.”

    Well, then the LHC still hasn’t done enough public outreach. The LHC is not only important on its own (increasing our knowledge about the universe in many ways), but also lead and will lead to lots of important spin-offs. Example: the cooling techniques which were developed for the LHC are now also used for fusion reactors – and fusion reactors will help to reduce the CO2-emissions. Another example (not specific for the LHC, but illustrative in general): the beams of particle accelerators are now routinely used for the treatment of certain cancers.

    (BTW, there is no way Higgs bosons could in any way be used for bombs. And don’t tell me that’s merely a matter of new technology, and people will surely find a way to use them for bombs! This is a matter of *physics*.)

  94. Todd W.

    @StevoR

    Here’s a brain puzzler for you. Suppose enough people think your way and feel that the LHC poses too much of a threat to the planet and all life on it. They manage to get it shut down. This prevents earlier discovery of something (either directly or via a spin-off technology) that, as it turns out, is essential to avert a dire disaster that will wipe out all life on the planet (or at least enough of it to make things rather bleak for a few millennia). Had we gone ahead with the LHC, we would have had the technological advances to either mitigate or outright prevent the disaster.

    Just a thought experiment for you. While I understand your reservations, there is no way of knowing that preventing the LHC is going to be better overall for the planet. It very well may be the worst thing to do.

    On another note, you are equating the pursuit of science with twisting science to destructive ends. Keep in mind that all of the dire things you bring up have less to do with the discoveries than with how those discoveries are used or abused. As Bjoern pointed out, do you make the same cries against viral and bacterial experimentation for medicine? Those could just as easily be used for harm. Could some weapon come out of the LHC experiments? Maybe. Is that a reason to shut the whole thing down? I don’t think so. If so, then the same criticism should be leveled at every scientific advance that humans have made: the wheel (used to make war machines – chariots), bells (used to make cannons, along with fireworks), flight (used to make fighters and bombers), anything to do with computers (unmanned aerial vehicles that can drop or guide bombs).

    Any technology can be used for good or evil, and it is almost never the individual scientists making the initial discoveries that are involved in those decisions.

  95. @ Buzz Parsec

    This is an extract from Wikipedia:

    By 1995, a billion cubic meters of the gas had been collected and the reserve was US$1.4 billion in debt, prompting the Congress of the United States in 1996 to phase out the reserve. The resulting “Helium Privatization Act of 1996” (Public Law 104–273) directed the United States Department of the Interior to start liquidating the reserve by 2005.

    So, it was simply sold off to pay the National Dept.

  96. IVAN3MAN

    ERRATUM: So, it was simply sold off to pay the National Debt.

    Bloody stupid spell-check!

  97. So you’ve just bought a billion cubic meters of helium.
    “Ebner. EBNER. Lordy where is that man. Ebner the govmint man is here with the trucks o’ helium. Where do ya want it”.

  98. Mario

    The big bang never happened and who’s controlling our world a “bunch of Monkeys” who believe we evolved from Apes OR Do we have another species on board our planet(“cloned” or from “DNA alterations”) calling the shots? Thanks to these “APES” we now have a black hole that’s going to grow larger and larger with time. All the people living close to where the LHC is located are going to have a ” STAR SHOWER ” one day.

    Do me a favour all you scientists go and conjugate with an urangatang maybe it’s offspring would be smarter.

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