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Weasel shuts down Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider - the world's largest particle collider - suffered another animal-related mishap when the furry critter crawled into the system's transformer, causing an electrical short.

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    The Large Hadron Collider, shown here in its tunnel at the European Particle Physics Laboratory, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, has been immobilized – temporarily – by a weasel.
    Martial Trezzini/Keystone/AP
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The world's largest atom smasher has been taken offline by a wayward weasel.

The Large Hadron Collider unexpectedly shutdown Thursday night after the critter – ahem – weaseled its way into the system's transformer, causing an electrical outage. The furry little guy did not survive the incident.

The $7 billion machine has experienced a series of mishaps in the past several days, including a vacuum leak, a "weird status of some magnets," and the most recent "electrical perturbation," according to a briefing document posted online by the European Particle Physics Laboratory (CERN).

"Not the best week for the LHC!" the document reads.

The collider, which started up in September 2008, is the most powerful particle accelerator in the world and is made up of a 17-mile ring of super-conducting magnets. Inside the accelerator, two high-energy particle beams called protons travel nearly at the speed of light before they are induced to collide head on.

Most famously, physicists used it to discover evidence of the Higgs boson, a key breakthrough in particle physics, while researchers have also focused on a search for the invisible "dark matter" believed to make up 96 percent of the universe.

The magnetic system requires special care, CERN says, noting in its briefing that the "weird status" was "to be understood."

The superconducting electromagnets that guide the particle beams, which are built from coils of electric cable, must be chilled to a temperature of -456.34 degrees F., colder than outer space, the agency says.

This also isn't the first time an animal-related mishap has struck the particle accelerator. In November 2009, CERN said a baguette dropped by a bird was the cause of an electrical short that briefly shut down the collider.

In that case, the agency said the bird survived but "lost breakfast." Asked whether the baguette had come from the future to sabotage the machine, CERN responded, "The possibility has been examined by theoretical physicists – considered unlikely as they feel baguettes will not play a part in future cultures."

The LHC's location along the border between France and Switzerland may also play a part in its various mishaps.

Weasels are apparently not uncommon in the Swiss countryside. An energetic pine marten brought a soccer match to a hilarious halt in 2013 as it scampered around the field, evading numerous players before one managed to catch it.

"We are in the countryside, and of course we have wild animals everwhere," Arnoaud Marsollier, head of press for CERN told NPR.

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