Deep within a gold mine in Stowell, Australia, researchers are searching for the invisible matter that makes up 85 percent of the matter in the universe. This substance is called dark matter and Professor Elisabetta Barberio and her colleagues are convinced that the ancient gold mine is the ideal place to observe it for the first time.
Located in an ancient gold mine still active, the Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory (SUPL) is the only laboratory of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. In this lab, researchers will search for dark matter, the invisible matter that is thought to make up about 85% of the matter in the universe. “This dark spot is a good place to look for dark matter. Even though we can’t see it, we are always surrounded by dark matter,” Elisabetta Barberio, a physicist at the University of Melbourne, told The Guardian.
What is it exactly? Scientists aren’t entirely sure. They know that dark matter is something that has mass but does not absorb, emit or reflect light. They believe that there is hardly any interaction with ordinary matter – the visible matter of which we, Earth, stars and galaxies are made up. But if it does, Barberio and her colleagues want to see it. They set up a dark matter detector deep in the earth.
The goal is to discover a theoretical dark matter particle known as “wimp,” a massive, weakly interacting particle. The idea is that a collision between weak – presumably the size of an atom – and ordinary matter will result in energy that can be considered light. “If such an experiment occurred on Earth’s surface, the noise from cosmic rays would drown out any real interactions between dark matter and the detector,” Barberio explains.
Once the detector is on, personnel should remove safety equipment and shower upon entry to reduce potential sources of radioactivity. Radioactive particles can ruin the experiment. The walls of the lab were sprayed with shotcrete, a sealant that reduces the emission of radon, a radioactive gas, from the underlying rock. Anything forbidden? Report “Banana!” “It’s high in potassium and low in radioactivity.”
Across the country, there is a separate experiment called Organ in search of a theoretical particle smaller than dark matter. This particle, known as an axion, is said to be billions of times lighter than the weak one, says Dr Ben McAllister of the University of Western Australia.
There is evidence of dark matter in motion of galaxies, including our own. The theory says that most galaxies rotate too fast to get gravity from ordinary matter alone, so there must be something invisible connecting them together. McAllister says dark matter is like a “cosmic mind”. “We can’t see it or touch it, but we can feel it.”
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