Yesterday a new web-site was launched by the DOE and NSF, called US/LHC, which will be devoted to the role of the US in the LHC project. Besides news and descriptions of the science and the experiments, it will also include blogs by several physicists involved in experiments at the LHC. This new web-site joins several other similar ones, most notably one devoted to the ILC, and an umbrella one for US particle physics called Interactions.
I’ve sometimes wondered whether this huge publicity onslaught for the LHC is a good idea. Just as this new web-site is coming on-line, I’m starting to hear unconfirmed reports of possible very serious delays in the LHC startup, ones which may push back the beginning of experiments by a year or more. The current schedule includes no extra time for cooling down sectors of the machine which have to be warmed up to deal with one problem or another, and this cooling is a tricky months-long process. If these rumors turn out to be true, this will be good news for the Tevatron, which will have the energy frontier to itself for longer than expected. But it will definitely be very bad news for CERN and for particle physics in general, both of which have just about all of their eggs in this heavily publicized basket.
Update: From the comments here and e-mail I’m getting, it appears that others are hearing these same rumors: the first physics runs are likely to be in 2009, not 2008, due to problems that have shown up as they have started cooling down some sectors of the machine.
Update: Peter Steinberg at the US/LHC site blogs about the conundrum of whether he should be dealing with “gossip from unverified or anonymous sources”, and decides he’d better not. I suspect one consideration is that his blogging role puts him in a sort of unofficial spokesman capacity, which is rather incompatible with rumor-mongering. On the other hand, I don’t have this problem…
An informed commenter reports in the comment section about details of some of the problems that have cropped up in the last month, and that the “best guess” for the delay that these will cause is about two months. This would move the start of a physics run from next July to next September.
Update: Via the Resonaances blog, here’s the video of a September 13 colloquium talk by Lyn Evans about the LHC commissioning. Evans describes in detail two of the problems that have shown up that motivated some of the rumors: leaks that have appeared during the first cool-down of certain sectors of the machine, and problems with some of the plug-in modules that interconnect the magnets. It remains unclear if these problems will cause slippage in the schedule, and if so, how much. News about what is going on with these problems is posted here.