A tiny mammal has reportedly brought the world's largest scientific experiment to a halt. The Large Hadron Collider suffered a power outage last night, after a luckless weasel decided to chew on a 66-kilovolt power cable. It's not the first time the LHC, a 27km superconductor that smashes atoms together at close to the speed of light, has run into trouble because of something small and cute. In 2009, the power went down after a bird dropped a baguette onto a critical electrical system. Although the incident was widely reported and confirmed at the time by sources at the LHC, CERN is apparently now telling folks it may be apocryphal.
"This was a story that was told, but we never knew exactly what happened," CERN spokesperson Arnaud Marsollier told New Scientist regarding the baguette incident. "We're in the countryside, you have wild animals."
Regardless of how things went down then or now, it's clear that the LHC is an extremely sensitive experiment. NPR reports that it will take CERN just a few days to repair the damaged transformer, but that the LHC may not be fully operational again until mid-May.
The power outage comes as CERN was preparing to collect a fresh batch of data on the Higgs Boson, a new elementary particle that was first discovered in 2012. While it's frustrating to hear that a small critter has once again foiled our plan to unlock the secrets of the universe, in all fairness there are no real winners here. The weasel's charred remains were found at the scene.
Top image via Maximilien Brice, CERN; Weasel image via Disney/Touchstone