Dark Matter Experiment Finds Best Nothing Yet

First run of South Dakota experiment comes up empty

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Oct 31, 2013 7:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – The team running the biggest, most sensitive dark matter detector yet announced its first round of results yesterday—specifically, the lack thereof. Scientists at the Homestake Gold Mine in South Dakota cooled a vat full of 368 kilograms of liquid xenon to minus 150 degrees Fahrenheit, watched it for three months, and caught nary a glimpse of the particle clouds that should have theoretically shown up, the New York Times reports. But despite what you might think, scientists are bragging about how little they saw. "In 25 years of searching, this is the cleanest signal I've seen," said physicist/spokesman Richard Gaitskell.

The non-find is significant because, if confirmed, it would rule out one theory about dark matter. While scientists tend to suspect dark matter is made up of high-mass subatomic particles called WIMPS (weakly interacting massive particles), one experiment suggested it might actually be a lower-mass version. But if those particles existed, the Homestake experiment should have spotted 1,550 of them. "If there are 1,550 of them, boy are we going to see them," Gaitskell said. Next, researchers will add another factor of sensitivity to the device, and run the experiment again.

Scientists slowly move the Large Underground Xenon detector toward a cavern in the now-shuttered Homestake Gold Mine in Lead, South Dakota, July 12, 2012.   (AP Photo/Sanford Underground Laboratory)
A scientist works Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in an above-ground version of a laboratory to be opened nearly 4,900 feet beneath the earth in Lead, SD.   (AP Photo/Amber Hunt)
Visitors descend into a science lab 4,850 feet beneath the earth, May 30, 2012 in Lead, SD.   (AP Photo/Amber Hunt)
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