The Search for Dark Matter Is Dramatically Expanding


Ever since astronomers reached a consensus within the Eighties that a lot of the mass within the universe is invisible—that “dark matter” should glue galaxies collectively and gravitationally sculpt the cosmos as an entire—experimentalists have hunted for the nonluminous particles.

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially unbiased publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to reinforce public understanding of science by overlaying analysis develop­ments and traits in mathe­matics and the bodily and life sciences.

They first set out in pursuit of a heavy, sluggish type of darkish matter known as a weakly interacting large particle, or WIMP—the early favourite candidate for the cosmos’s lacking matter as a result of it might remedy one other, unrelated puzzle in particle physics. Over the many years, groups of physicists arrange ever bigger targets, within the type of enormous crystals and multi-ton vats of unique liquids, hoping to catch the uncommon jiggle of an atom when a WIMP banged into it.

But these detectors have stayed quiet, and physicists are more and more considering a broader spectrum of prospects. On the heavy finish, they are saying the universe’s invisible matter might clump into black holes as heavy as stars. At the opposite excessive, darkish matter might unfold out in a effective mist of particles 1000’s of trillions of trillions of occasions lighter than electrons.

With new hypotheses come new detection strategies. Kathryn Zurek, a theoretical physicist on the California Institute of Technology, mentioned that if present WIMP experiments don’t see something, “then I think there’s going to be a substantial part of the field that’s going to shift into these new kinds of experiments.”

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Already, the work has begun. Here are a couple of of the numerous new fronts within the seek for darkish matter.

Between an Electron and a Proton

WIMPs would have sufficient heft to often bowl over an entire atom. But in case darkish matter is lighter, some experimentalists are organising smaller bowling pins.

A gentler rain of darkish matter particles weighing lower than protons might often knock electrons free from their host atoms. The first experiment designed particularly to select up this darkish matter is the Sub-Electron-Noise Skipper CCD Experimental Instrument (Sensei), which makes use of expertise just like that of digital cameras to amplify indicators from unexpectedly emancipated electrons inside supplies.

When a Sensei prototype switched on with simply one-tenth of a gram of silicon, it didn’t discover darkish matter. Even so, the group’s outcomes, printed in 2018, immediately dominated out sure fashions.

“We just turned on and we had the world’s best limits,” mentioned Tien-Tien Yu, a physicist on the University of Oregon and a Sensei collaboration member, “because there were no limits before.”

Recent outcomes from a 2-gram model of Sensei lengthen these limits, and now Yu and her colleagues are getting ready to deploy a 10-gram model in an underground laboratory in Canada, away from interfering cosmic rays. Other teams are designing different low-cost experiments concentrating on the identical low-hanging fruit.

Going Lighter

If darkish matter is lighter nonetheless, or blind to electrical cost, it would fail to unleash an electron. Zurek has brainstormed ways in which even these pipsqueaks might betray their presence by influencing the conduct of teams of particles.

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Imagine a block of silicon, for instance, as a mattress with springs representing atomic nuclei. Bounce 1 / 4 off the mattress, Zurek says, and whereas no single spring will transfer a lot, the coin might set off a ripple that passes by way of many springs. She proposed in 2017 that an identical disturbance from a darkish matter interplay would possibly generate sound waves that might barely heat the system.

One undertaking taking this route, Tesseract, is at the moment operating in a basement on the University of California, Berkeley, on the lookout for ripples from darkish particles comparable in heft to people who Sensei targets. Sensitive future upgrades, nonetheless, might theoretically discover particles as much as a thousand occasions lighter.

But there are much more Lilliputian particle prospects. The axion—an entity so slight it’s extra wave than particle—might comprise darkish matter and concurrently remedy a thriller in regards to the robust nuclear pressure. The Axion Dark Matter Experiment (ADMX) not too long ago started scanning for axions decaying into pairs of photons inside a mighty magnetic discipline, and a number of other comparable searches are beginning up.

Some experiments are aiming for even lighter stuff. The lightest that darkish matter might presumably be is about one-thousandth of a trillionth of a trillionth of the electron’s mass—which might end in a particle that’s like a particularly low-energy wave, with a wavelength the scale of a small galaxy. Lighter (and subsequently longer) entities could be too diffuse to clarify why galaxies stick collectively.

Clues From Above

While experimentalists put together the subsequent era of apparatuses looking for direct contact with darkish matter, others plan to scour the heavens for oblique signposts.