Skip to comments.Potential Dark Matter Discovery a Win for Space Station Science
Posted on 04/04/2013 12:52:30 PM PDT by LibWhacker
If nature is kind, the first detection of dark matter might be credited to the International Space Station soon.
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer experiment hangs on the side of the International Space Station, July 12, 2011. CREDIT: NASA
Today (April 3), researchers announced the first science results from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a $2 billion cosmic-ray particle detector mounted on the exterior of the football-field-size International Space Station. The instrument has observed a striking pattern of antimatter particles called positrons that may turn out to be a product of collisions between dark matter particles.
Though the findings are still uncertain, and the signal could also arise from a more mundane source, the data are, nonetheless, groundbreaking, experts said.
"I think it is fair to say that this is the most important physics result thus far to come from the International Space Station," theoretical physicist Robert Garisto, who was not involved in the AMS project, wrote today on Twitter. [Photos: See the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer in Space]
Garisto is editor of the physics journal Physical Review Letters, which published the AMS results in a paper released today.
No matter what the AMS measurements ultimately herald be it dark matter or something else the findings would not have been possible without the platform of the International Space Station, a $100 billion orbiting laboratory staffed full-time by teams of three to six astronauts. AMS collects cosmic-ray particles, which are abundant in space, though largely blocked on Earth by our planet's atmosphere.
In its first 18 months of operations, AMS detected about 30 billion cosmic rays, including 400,000 positrons a haul that allowed significantly more precise statistics than experiments conducted on Earth.
"It's a very major step forward by at least an order of magnitude in sensitivity," Brown University physicist Richard Gaitskell told SPACE.com. Gaitskell is a founding investigator on the Large Underground Xenon experiment, which aims to detect dark-matter particles directly underground in South Dakota.
These are multiple images of a few distant galaxies, showing that the cluster is a strong gravitational lens. The relatively weak distortions of the many distant faint blue galaxies all over the image, however, indicates the existence of the dark matter ring. The computationally modeled dark matter ring spans about five million light years and has been digitally superimposed to the image in diffuse blue. Image credit: NASA, ESA, M. J. Jee and H. Ford et al. (Johns Hopkins Univ.)
Dark matter is an invisible substance thought to make up more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe. The elusive stuff is difficult to detect because it very rarely interacts with normal matter, except through its gravitational pull.
One of the leading explanations for dark matter is that it is made up of particles called WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles), which may produce a detectable signature when they collide and annihilate each other. This happens because WIMPs are thought to be their own antimatter partner particles. When matter and antimatter meet, they destroy each other, so if two WIMPs were to make contact, they would obliterate one another.
In fact, searching for this signature of WIMPs was one of the main motivations for building the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Whether or not the instrument succeeds in detecting dark matter, scientists say they're happy with the early results from AMS so far.
"I am confident that this is only the first of many scientific discoveries enabled by the station that will change our understanding of the universe," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said today in a statement.
However, the experiment almost never made it to space.
The first space shuttle mission slated to deliver AMS to orbit was canceled in the wake of the 2003 space-shuttle Columbia disaster, and it took a prolonged campaign by scientists to convince NASA to add a final shuttle mission to its schedule before the fleet was retired. Finally, in May 2011, the space-shuttle Endeavour carried AMS to the space station in the second-to-last mission of the 30-year shuttle program.
"I think there's probably a message to all of us: When it looks kind of dark and doesn't look like there's a clear path forward, fix your eyes on that point in the future, and keep moving forward," William Gerstenmaier, NASA's space station program manager, said during a NASA press conference today. The great results from AMS now are perhaps "just a tad sweeter that way" than if the road to this point had been less turbulent, he added.
That image freaks me out.
“That image freaks me out.”
I remember being freaked out by the telephoto shots of pitchers and batters taken from center field when they first aired back in the sixties. The batters were further away than the pitchers, but looked bigger.
The galaxies look close together, but really aren’t as close together as they look.
Was it found over Washington D.C.?
WIMPs are Liberals in a postapocalyptic world!
I think thats part of what freaks me out. Those are freekin galaxies!!
I think thats part of what freaks me out. Those are freekin galaxies!!
Even if only 1 in a 1000 galaxies has ONE planet that has intelligent life at our level that would mean there is still a LOT of intelligent life out there....
They actually think based off of curent theories that there is AT LEAST the possiblitiy that there are at least 1,000 planets per galaxy that have on them what we would consider inteligent life on them....
That means that the universe could be teaming with intelligent life, well except maybe the liberals on our own planet.
Hoping to live long enough to hear the physicists admit they screwed up and that the extra gravity in the universe can be explained by the fact they grossly underestimated the mass of the black hole at the heart of EVERY galaxy.
What’s really annoying is that they speak of dark matter as if it’s a fact rather than an unproven theory with no real evidence to back it up. It’s the Global Warming of Astrophysics
The Detroit Tigers had the potential to be MLB’s 2012 World Champions last year but they did NOT win. Not even once.
"Dark Matter" and "Dark Energy" are simply terms to label what is currently misunderstood in our limited understanding of physics. It doesn't mean those term are invented out of a need for prevarication.
Here is something to think about. If the Universe is infinite as some say then even if a planet like ours with life is exceedingly rare, there have to be an infinite number of them and also an infinite number that don’t have life.
Nevertheless if 80% of the universe is composed of matter that does not organize itself into atoms or molecules, this hyperfluid or whatever it is should be everywhere; why aren’t we pumping it out of the cellar rather than searching for it with the most sophisticated instruments imaginable.
Dude, 80 PERCENT!
I think that’s a fair assumption for an enlightened human being to make...Got any more?
Wowsa, those boys and girls have themselves quite a penthouse suite up there. All along I thought they were cramped into a small capsule but an approx 57,000 sq ft pad is quite impressive.
Dark matter is nearly impossible to see on a small scale with our current knowledge and technology. The next big question in physics is whether dark matter is composed of particles that are their own anti-particles. Neutrinos could be a component of dark matter that fall into that category.
It's a mathematical construct used to get all their other equations to make sense in their quest for the Grand Unified Theory.
Size. During its third year of human residency, the habitable pressurized volume of the station was equal to the habitable space in an 1,800-square-ft. three-bedroom house with 8-ft. ceilings.Hmmm... maybe they should rename it the Internatiional Space Mansion? ;-)
The habitable pressurized volume on the completed station is expected to be 43,000 cubic feet. That would be about the volume of three average American houses, each one containing about 2,000 square ft. with 7-ft. ceilings for a total of around 14,000 cubic ft. each. That pressurized volume also would be roughly equivalent to the interior of a 747 jumbo jet.
The station remains the largest, most sophisticated. most powerful spacecraft ever built. It has a mass of almost 400,000 lbs.
The majority of the power, cooling, volume and research capacity on the station have been supplied by the United States.
Thanks LibWhacker. An extra for APoD members.
Oh, it’s a head-scratcher, alright - but things like this are what make legitimate physics fun! And just think of the way we can apply such understanding, once we gain it, for all the good things: ending hunger, lowering taxes, and a better head on a mug of beer....
I love this stuff!