The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva — the world's biggest, most powerful particle accelerator — is going to be out of commission for a few days. Scientists are blaming a weasel.
No, they're not using old-timey slang to accuse their fellow researchers of subterfuge. It was an actual weasel.
— Becky Douglas (@BeckyDouglas) April 29, 2016
Arnaud Marsollier, head of press for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), told The Washington Post in an email that the LHC had been put on standby mode due to "technical issues in the last 24 hours, including a power cut (likely due to the passage of a small wild animal on a 66 kV/18kV electrical transformer.)"
When pressed, Marsollier — who was incredibly good natured, considering the fact that I was questioning him about a tiny dead animal — identified the perp.
"I can confirm it was a weasel," he wrote.
You'll have to wait an extra week for your LHC data because a weasel caused a powercut. Not a joke; something that really happened.
— Brian Colquhoun (@article82) April 29, 2016
On a good, weasel-less day, the LHC is used to smash fast-moving particles into one another. The hope is that scientists will use these collisions to better understand the fundamentals of physics, and perhaps even discover unknown particles that help shape the laws of our universe.
But not this week!
Marsollier reports that technicians are hard at work to get the machine back online — and that these sort of power cut mishaps happen periodically, so it's not a huge deal — but it might take a few days or weeks to get back to experimenting.
A similar incident took place in 2009, and many have blamed a bird. In fact, some even say that a bird dropped a piece of baguette into the machine's electrical workings, which sounds a little too perfect to be true. Marsollier told New Scientist that reports of evidence supporting this bird/baguette theory have been greatly exaggerated. But, he added, "we’re in the countryside, you have wild animals.”
They're also right by the French border, so to be fair they probably have baguettes, too.
A post on the LHC group on Reddit has a collection of logbook recordings and meeting slides about the incident, as well as an alleged image of the animal in question (nooooo don't click it, don't). Marsollier confirmed the identity of the pictured animal in an email to The Post.
It's a bad day for particle physics and a bad day for weasels — assuming this wasn't the first attack in an anti-science animal rebellion. It might not hurt to check in on your lab mice.