Located a mile underground of Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota, the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) facility has proven very satisfactory in detecting the potential existence of dark matter – the phenomenal matter that is said to account for most things in our universe.
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Dark matter is the hypothetical form of matter that is believed to make up 90% of the universe; it is invisible and does not absorb or emit light, neither does it collide with atomic particles but actually exerts gravitational force on other objects close to it.
In a study published in Physical Review Letters, scientists deployed a new range of calibration efforts at the LUX facility to dramatize that the facility’s sensitivity to detecting dark matter is great improved with higher assurance levels. The dark matter scientists are using LUX to search for weakly interacting massive particles or WIMPs which are indicative of the proven existence of dark matter.
"We have improved the sensitivity of LUX by more than a factor of 20 for low-mass dark matter particles, significantly enhancing our ability to look for WIMPs," said Rick Gaitskell, professor of physics at Brown University. "It is vital that we continue to push the capabilities of our detector in the search for the elusive dark matter particles."
Considering the improved detection sensitivity of LUX facility, added to the improved computer simulations perfected at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), and coupled with the Center for Computation and Visualization (CCV) of Brown University – additional model particles of dark matter can now be extracted for testing.
Scientists wouldn’t have believed in the existence of dark matter if it weren’t for the effects its gravity has on the movement of galaxies, coupled with the way dark matter causes light to bend as it travels through the universe.
"We have looked for dark matter particles during the experiment's first three-month run, but are exploiting new calibration techniques better pinning down how they would appear to our detector," said Alastair Currie of Imperial College London, a LUX researcher.
"These calibrations have deepened our understanding of the response of xenon to dark matter, and to backgrounds. This allows us to search, with improved confidence, for particles that we hadn't previously known would be visible to LUX," Currie added.
The LUX dark matter experiment facility is made up of one-third ton of liquid xenon embedded in matter that is very sensitive to light – designed to be tipped off when particles of dark matter collides with an atom of xenon within the light detector. Although a collision rarely happens, when it does, the atom of xenon will recoil and send off a light flash that gets picked up by LUX’s light sensors.
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"It is like a giant game of pool with a neutron as the cue ball and the xenon atoms as the stripes and solids," Gaitskell said. "We can track the neutron to deduce the details of the xenon recoil, and calibrate the response of LUX better than anything previously possible."