CERN plans new experiments to look for Dark Matter ‘particles’

A tiny new experiment at the LHC

CERN LHC Particle Collider
CERN LHC Particle Collider (Source: CERN)

The most powerful and largest particle accelerator host CERN is up to experiments to look for particles that are associated with the mysterious dark matter. The dark matter is believed to make up about 27% of the universe according to the European physics lab.

The dark matter is a mysterious substance which is perceived through its gravitational pull on other objects. According to the scientists associated to the study of space science, the so-called ordinary matter – which includes stars, gases, dust, planets and everything on them – accounts for only five percent of the universe. “Some of these sought-after particles are associated with dark matter,” a statement from CERN said.

Dark Matter NASA
Using observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have found that dark matter does not slow down when colliding with itself, meaning it interacts with itself less than previously thought. Researchers say this finding narrows down the options for what this mysterious substance might be. Dark matter is an invisible matter that makes up most of the mass of the universe. Because dark matter does not reflect, absorb or emit light, it can only be traced indirectly by, such as by measuring how it warps space through gravitational lensing, during which the light from a distant source is magnified and distorted by the gravity of dark matter. (Credit: NASA Goddard)

On Tuesday, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced that it has approved the experiment designed to look for light and weakly interacting particles at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — a giant lab in a 27-kilometer tunnel straddling the French-Swiss border.

The Lab has also given a statement about the Forward Search Experiment (FASER) that it will complement CERN’s ongoing physics programme, extending its potential to several new particles. Some of these sought-after particles are associated with dark matter, which is a hypothesized kind of matter that does not interact with the electromagnetic force and consequently cannot be directly detected using emitted light. FASER will search for a suite of hypothesized particles including so-called “dark photons“, particles which are associated with dark matter, neutralinos and others.

“It is very exciting to have FASER approved for installation at CERN. It is amazing how the collaboration has come together so quickly and we are looking forward to recording our first data when the LHC starts up again in 2021,” said Jamie Boyd, co-spokesperson of the FASER experiment.

“This novel experiment helps diversify the physics programme of colliders such as the LHC, and allows us to address unanswered questions in particle physics from a different perspective,” Mike Lamont, co-coordinator of the PBC study group, said in a statement. “The four main LHC detectors are not suited for detecting the light and weakly interacting particles that might be produced parallel to the beam line”, he added.

They may travel hundreds of meters without interacting with any material before transforming into known and detectable particles, such as electrons and positrons. The exotic particles would escape the existing detectors along the current beam lines and remain undetected.

The detector’s total length is under five meters and its core cylindrical structure has a radius of 10 centimeters. It will be installed in a side tunnel along an unused transfer line which links the LHC to its injector, the Super Proton Synchrotron.

A collaboration of 16 institutes is building the detector and will carry out the experiments which will start taking data from LHC’s Run 3 between 2021 and 2023.

The LHC was used in 2012 to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson – dubbed the God particle – which allowed scientists to make great progress in understanding how particles acquire mass.

What is dark matter?

Dark matter is a hypothetical form of matter that accounts approximately 85% of the matter in the universe, and about a quarter of its total energy density. dark matter does not interact with the electromagnetic force. This means it does not absorb, reflect or emit light, thus making it extremely hard to spot. Dark matter seems to outweigh visible matter roughly six to one, making up about 27% of the universe.


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