Dark matter is one of the most sought after discoveries in the current known scientific universe. It is believed to make up approximately 27% of the known universe, although it has never been directly detected by any instrument. Scientists believe in its existence based upon gravitational effects the dark matter appears to have on visible particles, and although the dark matter itself is still in hiding, some new hardware may be able to change that as soon as next year.
The two methods that were commonly being used to attempt to detect dark matter were the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and the Large Hadron Collider. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer scans deep space in the hopes of finding debris left behind by dark matter particles. Conversely, the Large Hadron Collider is used on Earth to smash particles together to see if the process results in any detectable forms of dark matter, thus far both methods have been unsuccessful in obtaining concrete proof in the existence of dark matter, but now a new method is being applied with a lot of support behind it.
This new method is the Large Underground Xenon detector, referred to as LUX for short. It is located in the Sanford Underground Research facility deep within a mine, and the first testing phase of a 90-day cycle was run earlier this year. It is set up very deep within the Earth in an effort to detect the very uncommon speculative occurrence of dark matter particles colliding with regular particles. They did not find the existence of dark matter as a result of this experiment, but are confident that the sensitivity of the detection methods used by LUX are leading theoretical science closer to the actual detection of dark matter than ever before when only Alpha Magnetic Spectrometers and the Large Hadron Collider were used.
The next run of LUX, scheduled to occur sometime in 2014, will consist of 300 days, which is over three times the duration of the initial test run. Whether the duration of the testing window played a factor in the possibility of dark matter realization is yet to be seen, but scientists involved both directly and indirectly with the experiment seem to have high hopes resting in LUX.
There still remain some very large elephants in the scientific room involving the possibilities of this experiment, as occurs with most theoretical experiments. A major one being if an undefined particle is indeed detected, other experiments will need to be conducted to conclusively identify it as dark matter. Another being that there would need to be consistent signals in other experiments conducted in order to create quantifiable measurements and properties of dark matter. If this 300 day run is unsuccessful, researchers with move forward with an even larger and more sensitive detection unit called LUX-ZEPLIN. If the second and more powerful unit yields no results, then scientists may have to return to the chalk boards to develop a completely different concept of dark matter itself because they would have exhausted all foreseeable detection options based upon the current model regard gravity.
By: Michael Blain