Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The German's call it Schadenfreude, I just call it laughing at something that is no laughing matter, except it is

Deep under the earth near Geneva, Switzerland lies the CERN particle accelerator. (See picture one, which shows an added mark where the large and small loops of the accelerator run for miles and miles under the surface of the land.)

The new structure of the machine, subject to four engineering reviews between 1998 and 2002, is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) (see picture two for part of it) which aims at nothing less than to re-create the conditions of the Big Bang at the beginning of our universe 14 million years ago (ie smash together protons at nearly the speed of light).

It was scheduled to begin doing this in November. Now, well, maybe next Spring. Because, alas, a little basic error in the designers' mathematical calculations led to a not so little explosion in deep under the earth which lifted a 20-ton magnet (like the one in picture three) off its mountings, filled a tunnel with helium gas, and forced an evacuation.

Now all the 24 such magnets located around the 17 mile accelerator must be stripped down and fixed. And the helium? A simple little matter of using pipes filled with liquid helium to cool the tunnels to the required -268C for the process. Boggles the mind if all you've ever done with helium is fill a few balloons and make your voice go crazy.

Those of you who know me know I love all this stuff for real ... cosmic theology and all that.

But I did have to laugh. I mean, don't you see the irony? Researching the Big Bang when wallop, a big bang!?

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