World’s Most Sensitive Dark Matter Detector's Sensitivity Improved

Posted: Dec 15 2015, 3:46am CST | by , Updated: Dec 15 2015, 8:58am CST, in News | Latest Science News

World’s Most Sensitive Dark Matter Detector's Sensitivity Improved
This is a view inside the LUX detector. Credit: Photo by Matthew Kapust/Sanford Underground Research Facility
  • World’s most sensitive experimental search for dark matter has gotten 20 times more sensitive.

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The world’s best dark matter detector underwent a rehaul and this time around it is even better than before.

The quest for dark matter is now 20 times more sensitive thanks to some new technology that has augmented the previous one. The new techniques reduce background interference and attempt to trap the particles that form upto 85% of the matter in the universe.

It’s still a difficult proposal though. The experiment equipment consists of a Large Underground Xenon or LUX which is basically an 815 pound vat of liquid xenon. It is buried one mile beneath the earth’s surface.

"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 and co-spokesperson for the LUX experiment. "

The site of the experiment is the Homestake gold mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Detectors are planted near the liquid xenon. Flashes of light show up on the detectors when WIMPS or weakly interacting massive particles strike the liquid xenon.

These WIMPS are the biggest candidates for dark matter. The WIMPS were produced at the time of the Big Bang and there might be a few of them still lurking around. The experiment is set to a very high level of sensitivity. Thus the WIMPS register up to four times as much as ordinary protons.

“We look for WIMPs produced in the Big Bang that are still around, up to very high masses – we have the best sensitivity of any experiment to date for WIMP masses above four times that of a proton,” said Daniel McKinsey, one of two spokespeople for LUX, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and an affiliate of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

”We haven’t yet observed dark matter interactions, but the search goes on.”

"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."

While no dark matter collisions have been observed until now, the scientists are hopeful that many will occur in the future. Dark matter is invisible yet it is the most dominant form of matter in the universe.

All visible matter comprises a measly 15% of the universe. Dark matter was discovered by the gravitational influence it exerted on the galaxies and the way it bends light which travels through the depths of outer space. But here on earth it is rare since it undergoes weak interactions only. Thus the moniker and acronym WIMP for dark matter.

“It is vital that we continue to push the capabilities of our detector in the search for the elusive dark matter particles,” said Rick Gaitskell, a professor of physics at Brown University and co-spokesperson for the LUX experiment.

“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.”

LUX will allow scientists to test the possible presence of dark matter on earth. All the interactions will be measured if and when they do occur. The only hope lies in increasing the sensitivity of the dark matter detector.

By now it has been enhanced almost twenty times. The LUX collaboration involves many prestigious scientific bodies engaged in research. If a dark matter particle collides with a xenon particle, the xenon particle will give off a tiny spark which will be detected by LUX’s light sensors.

These are termed photomultipliers. The detector lies beneath 4850 feet of rock. This shields it from cosmic rays and gamma rays that tend to get in the way. Furthermore, there is a moat of water surrounding the experiment. The new technology is definitely worth it.

This new research is described in a paper submitted to Physical Review Letters and posted to ArXiv.

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