Monday, December 26, 2016

Embrace the Darkness To Go Beyond Standard Physics

Much of the material composing the cosmos is dark matter, a strange substance we can't see or touch. So how do we know it's there? Actually, we don't, but scientists largely agree that it must be, inferring its presence from gravitational effects observed in space. An EU-funded project is analysing cosmic rays in a bid to find further clues.

Coffee cups, smartphones, doughnuts — at some level, they’re all mere matter. The standard model of particle physics encompasses the basic building blocks of everything we see around us. It explains a lot about the world we know, but very little about the worlds beyond it.

Dark matter, for example, is beyond its reach, and yet this intriguing material is thought to be far more abundant than the ‘normal’ stuff. Evidence of its existence is derived from the movements of astronomical objects and the way light bends around them, which hint at lots of “missing” mass.

Content of the Universe - Pie Chart: WMAP data reveals that its contents include 4.6% atoms, the building blocks of stars and planets. Dark matter comprises 23% of the universe. This matter, different from atoms, does not emit or absorb light. It has only been detected indirectly by its gravity. 72% of the universe, is composed of "dark energy", that acts as a sort of an anti-gravity. This energy, distinct from dark matter, is responsible for the present-day acceleration of the universal expansion. WMAP data is accurate to two digits, so the total of these numbers is not 100%. This reflects the current limits of WMAP's ability to define Dark Matter and Dark Energy.
Credit: NASA WMAP Science Team/Wikimedia Commons

The perplexing properties of this type of matter, which is undetectable to our senses, suggest that there are fundamentally different particles involved. Scientists around the world are attempting to shine a light into this unknown territory, notably by studying the scope to detect dark matter by other means.

“New physics in space” is one such project exploring the possibility of new physics beyond our experience. Launched in December 2015 for a period of two years, it focuses on the analysis of cosmic rays as a means to learn more about dark matter and its constituent particles.

More specifically, the project will look into an anomaly observed in the composition of cosmic radiation, which might be partly caused by the annihilation or decay of dark matter particles. The research is backed by a fellowship grant awarded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions of the Horizon 2020 programme.

Contacts and sources:
EC Research and Innovation

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