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02/06/2013

Dark matter hunting: the DarkSide-50 detector

Higgs Boson
A document provided by CERN shows a graphic presenting traces of proton-proton collision measured in the Compact Muon Solenoid experience. (AFP Photo/CERN)

The discovery last summer of a particle that looks, walks and talks exactly like the Higgs Boson appeared to resolve one of modern physics' greatest mysteries.

But discovering the Higgs - the last unknown particle predicted by the Standard Model, which describes the building blocks of matter in the universe - also left some people scratching their heads. What next?

Dark matter is what's next.

Maybe.

The BBC has report today from the Gran Sasso National Laboratory, a lab deep inside an Italian mountain range north of Rome. There, scientists are looking for dark matter - something physicists believe exist but that no one has ever seen. The detector is called DarkSide-50, awesomely.

What we can observe in the universe makes up only a fraction of all matter. Physicists believe the rest is dark matter and dark energy, the existence of which is inferred from its gravitational effects on everything else.

The problem is, dark matter -- if it exists -- has no electromagnetic relationship with visible particles. In English, that means we can't see it. 

DarkSide-50 hopes, instead, to see a piece of dark matter "bump" into regular matter, the BBC reports. That involves filling a huge tank with liquid and gas argon and hoping that the dark matter hits the argon, creating a flash of light.

If it doesnt, that's interesting too. Previous searches in places scientists thought dark matter would be, around our galaxy, turned up nothing. Some have hypothesized that dark matter doesn't actually exist at all.

For a really basic backgrounder on what dark matter is and why it's important, check out this great blog post that involves a Scooby-Doo cake.

And stay tuned.

Kate Allen is the Toronto Star’s global science and technology reporter. Follow her on Twitter @katecallen

Comments

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Despite the genius of Einstein and Witten and the elegance of general relativity and M ( superstring) theory, we still don't understand "dark matter" or 'dark energy" in the slightest, and that is most of what the universe ( or "brane") consists of. Paraphrasing Newton, the vast sea of knowledge still lies undiscovered before us, despite our pretensions.

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