"The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean... Recently, we've managed to wade a little way out, and the water seems inviting." - Carl Sagan
Researchers may have finally detected a dark matter particle
Dark matter: it’s invisible, it’s elusive, it’s controversial… and it’s everywhere — in the Universe, yes, but especially in the world of astrophysics, where researchers have been exhaustively trying to reveal its true identity for decades.
Now, scientists with the international Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (SuperCDMS) experiment are reporting the detection of a particle that’s thought to make up dark matter: a weakly-interacting massive particle, or WIMP. According to a press release from Texas A&M University (whose high-energy physicist Rupak Mahapatra is a principal investigator in the experiment) SuperCDMS has identified a WIMP-like signal at the 3-sigma level, which indicates a 99.8 percent chance of an actual discovery — a “concrete hint,” as it’s being called.
“In high-energy physics, a discovery is only claimed at 5-sigma or better,” Mahapatra said. “So this is certainly very exciting, but not fully convincing by the standards. We just need more data to be sure. For now, we have to live with this tantalizing hint of one of the biggest puzzles of our time.”
If this is indeed a WIMP it will be the first time such a particle has been directly observed, lending more insight into what dark matter is… or isn’t.
Notoriously elusive, WIMPs rarely interact with normal matter and therefore are difficult to detect. Scientists believe they occasionally bounce off, or scatter like billiard balls from, atomic nuclei, leaving behind a small amount of energy capable of being tracked by detectors deep underground, particle colliders such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and even instruments in space like the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) mounted on the International Space Station.
“We are only 99.8 percent sure, and we want to be 99.9999 percent sure, at 3-sigma, you have a hint of something. At 4-sigma, you have evidence. At 5-sigma, you have a discovery.” – Dr. Rupak Mahapatra, SuperCDMS principal investigator, Texas A&M University