Dark matter detector nearing activation

2012-11-21 08:31
Scientists hoping to detect dark matter have taken the last major step before flipping the switch on their delicate experiment. (AP)

Scientists hoping to detect dark matter have taken the last major step before flipping the switch on their delicate experiment. (AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Sioux Falls - Scientists hoping to detect dark matter deep in a former South Dakota gold mine have taken the last major step before flipping the switch on their delicate experiment and say they may be ready to begin collecting data as early as February.

What's regarded as the world's most sensitive dark matter detector was lowered earlier this month into a 264 971l water tank nearly 1.6km beneath the earth's surface, shrouding it in enough insulation to hopefully isolate dark matter from the cosmic radiation that makes it impossible to detect above ground.

And if all goes as planned, the data that begins flowing could answer age-old questions about the universe and its origins, scientists said.

"We might well uncover something fantastic," said Harry Nelson, a professor of physics at University of California, Santa Barbara and a principal investigator on the Large Underground Xenon experiment. "One thing about our field is that it's kind of brutal in that we know it's expensive and we work hard to only do experiments that are really important."

This one hasn't been cheap, at about $10m, but like the discovery of the Higgs boson - dubbed the "God particle" by some - earlier this year in Switzerland, the detection of dark matter would be a seismic occurrence in the scientific community.

Undetectable

Scientists know dark matter exists by its gravitational pull but, unlike regular matter and antimatter, it's so far been undetectable. Regular matter accounts for about 4% of the universe's mass, and dark matter makes up about 25%. The rest is dark energy, which is also a mystery.

The search in South Dakota began in 2003 after the Homestake Gold Mine in the Black Hills' Lead, South Dakota, shuttered for good. Scientists called dibs on the site, and in July, after years of fundraising and planning, the LUX detector moved into the Sanford Underground Research Facility, 1 478m below the earth's surface.

It took two days to ease the phone booth-sized detector down the once-filthy shaft and walkways that originally opened for mining in 1876 during the Black Hills Gold Rush.

There, the device was further insulated from cosmic radiation by being submerged in water that's run through reverse osmosis filters to deionize and clean it.

"The construction phase is winding down, and now we're starting the commissioning phase, meaning we start to operate the systems underground," said Jeremy Mock, a graduate student at the University of California, Davis who has worked on the LUX experiment for five years.

Carefully submerging the delicate detector into its final home - a water-filled vat that's 6m tall and 7.6m in diameter - took more than two months, Mock said.

Scientists are currently working to finish the plumbing needed to keep the xenon as clean as possible. The xenon, in both liquid and gas form, will fill the detector and be continuously circulated through a purifier that works much like a dialysis machine, pulling the substance out to remove impurities before pushing it back into the detector.

Sensitive

Keeping the water and xenon pristine will help remove what Nelson called "fake sources" - or stuff that scientists have seen before, such as radiation, that could serve as false alarms in their efforts to detect dark matter.

Nelson likens the experiment to Sherlock Holmes' approach to discovering the unknown by eliminating the known.

Once the data start to flow, it'll take a month or two before the detector is sensitive enough to claim the "most-sensitive" title, Nelson said.

After that, the scientists involved hope to start seeing what they covet most: something they've never seen before.
- AP

Read more on:    science  |  technology
NEXT ON NEWS24X

SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
27 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Monday Gordons Bay - 15:16 PM
    Road name: N2 Outbound
    STATIONARY VEHICLE in the left lane before Sir Lowry Road
  • Monday Montague Gardens - 12:40 PM
    Road name: Montague Drive Northbound
    DELAYS between Bosmansdam Road and Racecourse Road due to roadworks
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2 TV Series for R250

Get 2 TV Series box sets for R250 and save up to R148! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing deals on beauty & fragrances

Save up to 30% off beauty and fragrances. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 50% off hair care products!

Save up to 50% on professional hair care products at kalahari.com. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off academic books

Score a mind blowing 30% off academic books! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing deals on electronics!

Save up to 35% on electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

BlackBerry Curve 3G 9300

Keep it together Text. Email. Social. With all the different ways to...

From R2499.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There is a strong emphasis on relationships. Obsession, emotional disputes, retaliation or competitive actions are highlighted....read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.