New technology could help unravel mysterious dark matter


New technology is being developed by an international team of scientists including those from University of Houston to unravel one of the great mysteries of science: what constitutes dark matter?

Dark matter has remained one of the most illusive topics in space research and while scientists believe dark matter makes up 85 per cent of the matter in the universe, nobody actually knows what dark matter is.

A team of physicists are trying to detect dark matter in the form of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) as part of an international research collaboration. In principle, when WIMP particles collide with ordinary nuclei, extremely small, low-energy nuclear recoil would result. In very simple terms, the scientists are trying to build technology that can detect WIMPS by detecting this very tiny, but observable recoil.

Researchers at UH are using the DarkSide program's first physics detector, DarkSide-50 (DS-50), located underground at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Central Italy. The team and their collaborators have improved the sensitivity of the DS-50 detector in recent years by switching from atmospheric argon to low-radioactivity liquid argon, which was extracted from underground gas wells in Colorado. But a next-generation detector in development will take it even further.

DarkSide-20k (DS-20k) is currently being constructed using similar components from the present DarkSide experiment. Whereas DS-50 holds about 9.5 gallons (50 kilograms) of low-radioactivity liquid argon, this new detector, DS-20k, will employ new readout technology and will be some 400 times larger, holding 3,800 gallons (20,000 kilograms) of liquid argon. The new experiment is expected to start acquiring data at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in 2021.

This detector will push the search for WIMP dark matter to new levels of sensitivity, hopefully finding the elusive WIMP. Or, he said, it could demonstrate that dark matter is not a particle, since this technology has now proven capable of searching for types of dark matter other than WIMPs.