Dark matter detector upgraded

One of the world’s most sensitive scientific instruments has been upgraded to aid in the search for dark matter.

The detector is searching for tiny particles that would improve researchers’ understanding of the invisible material, which is thought to make up about 27 per cent of the universe.

Detecting dark matter

The instrument – known as the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) detector – is located a mile underground in a former mine in South Dakota, US.

The upgrade increases the chances of the detector identifying particles called WIMPs, which scientists believe are the main component of dark matter.

Dark matter has yet to be detected directly by scientists. It has so far been observed only by its effects on gravity, which can be seen in the rotation of galaxies and the way light bends as it travels through space.

Increased sensitivity

A team of physicists, including scientists at Edinburgh, have made LUX’s ability to identify the lightest form of WIMPs about 20 times more sensitive.

This has allowed them to study data collected during LUX’s initial run in 2013 which previously had to be ignored.

Underground detector

WIMPs are difficult to spot because they collide with normal matter only rarely, and their faint signals are drowned out by cosmic radiation from space.

Housed deep underground where few cosmic rays can penetrate, LUX consists of a tank of liquid xenon surrounded by sensitive light detectors.

It is designed to spot collisions between WIMPs and xenon atoms inside the detector.

The study, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, was supported by the US Department for Energy and the National Science Foundation.

The LUX scientific collaborative involves 19 institutions in Europe and the US.

"We are now able to look for tell-tale signs of WIMPs in data we previously had to ignore, increasing our chances of detecting dark matter." Alex Murphy, Professor of Nuclear and Particle Astrophysics, School of Physics and Astronomy