28-01-11

Hunt for dark matter closes in at Large Hadron Collider

 

Wednesday 26 January 2011


Physicists are closer than ever to finding the source of the Universe's mysterious dark matter, following a better than expected year of research at the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) particle detector, part of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva.

 

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The scientists have now carried out the first full run of experiments that smash protons together at almost the speed of light.

 

When these sub-atomic particles collide at the heart of the CMS detector, the resultant energies and densities are similar to those that were present in the first instants of the Universe, immediately after the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago.

 

The unique conditions created by these collisions can lead to the production of new particles that would have existed in those early instants and have since disappeared.

 

The researchers say they are well on their way to being able to either confirm or rule out one of the primary theories that could solve many of the outstanding questions of particle physics, known as Supersymmetry (SUSY).

 

Many hope it could be a valid extension for the Standard Model of particle physics, which describes the interactions of known subatomic particles with astonishing precision but fails to incorporate general relativity, dark matter and dark energy.

 

Dark matter is an invisible substance that we cannot detect directly but whose presence is inferred from the rotation of galaxies.

 

Physicists believe that it makes up about a quarter of the mass of the Universe whilst the ordinary and visible matter only makes up about 5% of the mass of the Universe.

 

Its composition is a mystery, leading to intriguing possibilities of hitherto undiscovered physics.

 

Professor Geoff Hall from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London, who works on the CMS experiment, said:

"We have made an important step forward in the hunt for dark matter, although no discovery has yet been made.

 

These results have come faster than we expected because the LHC and CMS ran better last year than we dared hope and we are now very optimistic about the prospects of pinning down Supersymmetry in the next few years."

 


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