A weasel-like rodent shut down the world's most powerful atom smasher after it apparently gnawed through a power cable, facility officials said today.
The Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile long machine sitting deep underground on the border of France and Switzerland, went offline Thursday night, according to documents posted online by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (better known by its French acronym CERN).
Engineers investigating the shutdown reportedly found the charred remains of a furry animal near the chewed-up power cable.
"We had electrical problems, and we are pretty sure this was caused by a small animal," Arnaud Marsollier, head of press for CERN, told NPR.
"The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is safely stopped, following technical issues, including a power cut due to the passage of a weasel on a high voltage electrical transformer," Marsollier told ABC News in a statement.
"Such events happened a few times in the past and are part of the life of such a large installation," Marsollier added. "Some connections were slightly damaged and we are at work to repair, what would not take long. We will be back online soon with a very exciting scientific programme as the LHC will explore further the world of particles at high energy."
The Large Hadron Collider has been pivotal in making new physics discoveries, including the detection of a pentaquark, which was first predicted in theory in the 1960s but eluded scientists for decades. A quark is the term for the building blocks that make up hadrons. Protons and neutrons are among the best known hadrons.
Before the discovery of five quarks bound together in a hadron, only hadrons with two or three quarks were known to exist, along with evidence of some subatomic particles made of four quarks.
The atom smasher most famously solved one of the enduring mysteries of physics in 2012 when the machine discovered experimental evidence for the Higgs boson particle. Nicknamed the "God particle" by some, it is believed to explain how other particles get their mass.
The finding earned Peter Higgs and Francois Englert the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics.