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Astrophysicists looking for evidence of dark matter

Last Updated: Sunday, April 18, 2010 - 15:22

Washington: Astrophysicists are looking everywhere - inside the Large Hadron Collider, in deep mines and far out into space - for evidence of dark matter, which makes up about 25 percent of the energy density of the universe.

Despite the recent tantalising observation of excess high-energy positrons - thought to be due to dark matter, University of California-Irvine (UC-I) researchers say we`re not quite there yet.

Positron is an elementary particle having the same mass and magnitude of charge as an electron but exhibiting a positive charge.

Worldwide and at the UC-I, the hunt for dark matter is in full swing. In the 17-mile-long tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, scientists are smashing together subatomic particles at nearly light speed in a quest for insight into the nature of the universe.

In dark mine shafts, researchers are registering faint hints of subatomic particles that they surmise could be dark matter. There are satellite, balloon-borne and ground-based endeavours to find high-energy gamma rays, neutrinos and antimatter that could be signatures of dark-matter particles.

Models predict that when dark-matter particles collide, they`ll annihilate some of the time into electrons and positrons, said Manoj Kaplinghat, physics and astronomy associate professor, UC-I.

Scientists working on a satellite experiment called PAMELA recently identified a large excess of positrons, causing a flurry of excitement about having detected dark matter.

Kaplinghat - working with Jonathan Feng, UC-I physics and astronomy professor, and Hai-Bo Yu, postdoctoral researcher - evaluated the dark-matter explanation for the PAMELA finding.

"What we concluded is that the detection of so many positrons makes it unlikely they`re all from dark matter," Kaplinghat said.

The UC-I study sharpens predictions of what scientists can expect to detect from the annihilation of dark-matter particles in our galaxy.

While it shows that currently popular models cannot account for the excess positrons observed, it leaves open the possibility that discovery of dark-matter evidence could be right around the corner, perhaps within reach of current and planned experiments.

Success in these multipronged efforts would bring astronomers closer to identifying the invisible material that constitutes a quarter of the world and determines the architecture of the visible universe.

And physicists would have the first evidence supporting the theory that all forces of nature can be unified under one mathematical expression, said an UC-I release.

"For now, we`re left with no convincing dark-matter explanation for excess positrons," Yu said. "Data from the LHC and experiments deep underground, on the Antarctic ice and in space will throw more light on these issues in the next couple of years - and perhaps we`ll even detect the dark-matter particle."

The UC-I study was published in Physical Review Letters.


First Published: Sunday, April 18, 2010 - 15:22

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