Currently, the 17-mile (27-kilometer) ring of superconducting magnets under the Swiss-French border is firing protons together at approximately half the energy the LHC was designed to achieve.
Now, CERN has announced their decision to give the speeding protons an extra boost this year by increasing the energy output by 1 Teraelectron volt (TeV) to a record-breaking 8 TeV. This small amplification may seem conservative considering the LHC is designed to be pushed to 14 TeV, but when living on the leading edge of physics discovery, it pays to be cautious.
The 2008 quench cost CERN dearly. Due to a faulty electrical connection between two of the magnets used to “steer” protons traveling close to the speed of light, vacuum conditions inside the magnets were lost, culminating in six tons of liquid helium being dumped into the tunnel and severe damage to dozens of supercooled magnets. If this were to happen again due to some unforeseen weakness in the superconducting ring of magnets, it would be a devastating blow for an otherwise flawless three years of LHC operations.
And if the LHC were to break in 2012, it would hurt the continuing hunt for the Higgs boson just at a time when tantalizing hints of a Higgs signal are beginning to show.
Best of luck, LHC. Keep cranking it up.
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