Crumbs! Bird and baguette trip up atom smasher

The Large Hadron Collider – the massive "Big Bang" machine on the Franco-Swiss border – hit a small snag last week after a bird dropped bread into the power supply.

This content was published on November 9, 2009 - 12:58

"There was no shutdown for the machine," a spokeswoman from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern) told on Monday. "The bread caused a very small short-circuit and that was it."

A passing bird last week dropped a baguette morsel into a portion of the machine's power system that sits above ground. That caused the collider's immensely complex cooling system to allow a three-kilometre stretch of the 27-km-long machine to warm from -271-degrees Celsius to -268 degrees.

"The bird escaped unharmed but lost its bread," Cern said. "The incident was similar in effect to a standard power cut, for which the machine protection systems are very well prepared."

Workers managed to fix the problem within a few hours. Operations were back to normal a few days later. There was no damage to the collider.

The planet's biggest machine is designed to recreate what happened when the universe was just trillionths of a second old by smashing protons into each other at nearly the speed of light. To do that, the machine must be kept colder than outer space.

A more serious cooling system malfunction shut the machine down completely in September 2008 just days after it had been turned on for the first time. After numerous delays, the machine is now expected to be fully operational again in mid-November.

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