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Moon pulls CERN particle collider out of shape

Moon pulls CERN particle collider out of shape

Posting in Energy

Beware when you operate a multi-billon dollar particle collider on monthly werewolf night! Lunar gravity tugs them and creates anomalies. Is this what's been hiding the Higgs Boson?

Watch out for that moon! Cross section of CERN's Large Hadron Collider, which contorts once a month.

Let's play word association. If I say "full moon," chances are, you'll blurt out "tides," "lunacy," "insanity," "howling," "insomnia," or "werewolf."

Add this to the list: "particle collider." That's right, I'm referring to those elaborate, multi-billion dollar physics machines that smash protons and other subatomic bits against each other in scientists' efforts to unravel the mysteries of the universe and solve other trivial matters.

Be careful if you operate one during a full moon!

According to the website Talking Points Memo, the gravitational pull of a recent full moon tugged on one side of CERN's Large Hadron Collider in Geneva more than on the other, "ever so slightly deforming the tunnel through which the proton beams pass."

But never fear. This seems to have happened before, and CERN's astute operators were on the case.

"In order to keep the proton beams on track, the operator at the LHC’s control center had to subtly alter the direction of the proton beams to accomodate the Moon’s pull, 'every hour or two,' " writes TPM's Carl Franzen.

This all came to light because scientist Pauline Gagnon  from the University of Indiana had noticed an anomaly in her data while conducting an experiment at the LHC.  So she called the control room, and as she recalls in a blog post,

“Oh, those dips?”, casually answered the operator on shift. “That’s because the moon is nearly full and I periodically have to adjust the proton beam orbits.”

Gagnon further explains,

"The LHC is such a sensitive apparatus, it can detect the minute deformations created by the small differences in the gravitational force across its diameter. The effect is of course largest when the moon is full.”

Gets you wondering, doesn't it? CERN is using its $9 billion contraption to mimic conditions just after the Big Bang, and to try to find the elusive Higgs Boson - the so called God particle that many believe would serves as the capstone to the Standard Model of Physics (watch for the latest news about this soon from Laura Shin on SmartPlanet's Science Scope blog). Has the moon been hiding Professor Higgs' famous particle all these years?

And what about those misbehaving neutrinos? You remember - the ones that supposedly traveled faster than light, only for CERN to eventually admit that it had made a measuring mistake. Those didn't involve the particle collider. But if the moon can tug on the LHC, could it not give a kick to a traveling neutrino? Do we need to reopen the case?

Feel free to howl with your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo: CERN

The Hunt for Higgs, on SmartPlanet:

The Neutrino Saga, on SmartPlanet:

More CERN on SmartPlanet:

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure