Dark matter is estimated to make up a vast majority of the universe's mass, yet no one has ever definitively detected it before. Now researchers from MIT are working to modify a particle accelerator to allow it to test select theories on what dark matter could actually be like. The work, described on Friday in Physical Review Letters, is primarily going to test if dark matter takes the form of a photon-like particle with one particularly notable difference: it has mass.
"You could not put any material in the beam's path"
In the paper, the researchers confirm that the tool they've built will be able to appropriately modify a particle accelerator in order to perform the tests. The tool would use the particle accelerator at Jefferson Lab in Virginia to produce a narrow beam of electrons containing a megawatt of power. "You could not put any material in that path," Richard Milner, a co-author of the paper, says in a statement. Should dark matter take the hypothesized, photon-like form, the beam will allow the researchers to detect two particles that it would decay into. If they can detect those two additional particles, they'll be able to prove the hypothesized particle's existence.
The experiment, known as DarkLight, would need another two years of testing followed by two years of data-gathering before it could produce any results, however. And it's far from the only experiment examining dark matter out there: physicists working at the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) detector are actually planning to announce the first results of their dark matter experiments on Wednesday. "It can have enormous consequences for our theories and our understanding," Milner says, were DarkLight to detect dark matter. "It would be absolutely groundbreaking in physics."