Feeds

MIT boffin teases space-station probe's DARK MATTER DISCOVERY

Just double-checking the numbers, says Nobel-prize winner

Intelligent flash storage arrays

A top astroboffin has hinted that an upcoming paper will reveal a major breakthrough in dark matter research.

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer installed on the S3 truss on ISS

The AMS installed on the S3 truss of the ISS

MIT scientist and Nobel Laureate in Physics Samuel Ting told reporters at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that the first results from the costly Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) are ready.

The spectrometer is a particle collector mounted on the outside of the International Space Station to comb the void for high-energy particles or cosmic rays. Ting heads up the AMS project, whose experiments are among the most expensive ever conducted in space.

Ting wouldn't say exactly what the AMS has come up with, but he said the results will concern the mystery of dark matter, the invisible material that in theory makes up a significant portion of the universe: about five per cent is said to be visible atomic matter, and the rest is a bit of a mystery.

"We've waited 18 years to write this paper, and we're now making the final check," Ting was quoted as saying by the BBC and others.

"I would imagine in two or three weeks, we should be able to make an announcement.

"We have six analysis groups to analyse the same results. Everybody has their own interpretations, and we're now making sure everyone agrees with each other. And this is pretty much done now."

Boffins theorised that dark matter is made up of weakly interacting massive particles, colourfully known as WIMPs, which interact only through weak nuclear force and gravity, and are relatively massive and cold. Simply put, the WIMPs don't interact electromagnetically with normal matter and thus are dark and invisible.

Three-dimensional distribution of dark matter in the Universe

3D distribution of dark matter in the Universe

WIMPs also have their own antimatter partner particles. It is understood when matter and antimatter bits meet up, they destroy each other; in the case of WIMPs, it is possible they leave behind a pair of resultant particles: an electron and a positron (an antielectron).

The AMS can detect the electrons and positrons produced by, what's believed to be, these dark matter annihilations. The $2bn experiment was installed on the Earth-orbiting space station in May 2011 and has so far detected 25 billion particle events, including about eight billion electrons and positrons. The results could show how many of each were found and what their energies were.

The number and spread of positrons are what will point to the detection of dark matter. Electrons are already all around us, but there are fewer known processes that give the universe positrons. Also, scientists expect positrons from dark matter to be spread evenly through space, not shooting through space as they might from a star explosion.

AMS is not the only experiment out there trying to find dark matter: there are also a number of investigations going on at the Large Hadron Collider, which could verify any AMS findings. Michael Turner, of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago, said that this could be the decade of dark matter.

"Theory says that this particle might weigh somewhere between 30, 40 and 300 times what the proton does, so somewhere between 30 and maybe 1,000 GeV," he told the BBC.

"The LHC can produce particles of that mass. Sam Ting's AMS detector can see particles of that mass annihilating, and then the detectors deep underground are also sensitive to particles of this mass.

"If we get very lucky, if Santa answers our wish-list, we could get a triple signature of the dark matter particle, by seeing the annihilations, by directly detecting it, by producing it at the LHC - all three of these methods are sensitive across the same mass range." ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.