The world’s most power scientific instrument, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — a 17-mile long particle smasher running under the Swiss-French border — went offline early Friday morning after a marten gnawed through a power cable, causing a short circuit. The furry little creature — adult males of the species weigh less than 4 pounds — met a more unfortunate end: it died.
The beech marten, identified in a European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) document by its French name, fouine, entered a 66 kilovolt transformer and damaged transformer connections. The “electrical perturbation” took place at 5:30 a.m. local time Friday (11 p.m. EDT Thursday), leading to a CERN-wide power cut that “affected all accelerators.” The CERN report concluded with the words: “Not the best week for LHC!”
While the machines themselves have not been damaged — repairs are expected to take a few days — it might be mid-May before LHC can start smashing particles again, National Public Radio reported.
In an email to Science News, Arnaud Marsollier from CERN’s press office said: “It may take a few days to repair but such events happened a few times in the past and are part of the life of such a large installation.”
This is not the first incident of its kind at LHC, which suffered a similar power cut in 2009 after, according to unverified reports, a bird drop a piece of baguette on a substation.
“This was a story that was told, but we never knew exactly what happened,” Marsollier told New Scientist about the 2009 incident, and providing context for the current outage, added: “We’re in the countryside, you have wild animals.”
LHC, which was running when the incident took place, was switched off through the winter months and is scheduled to resume operations in the coming weeks, colliding particles at its highest energy level yet. Scientists at CERN are hoping the data from experiments to be conducted over the coming months will allow them to find the origins of a mysterious 750-gigaelectronvolt particle that was hinted at by data collected last year.