Tantalizing New Clues Into the Mysteries of Dark Matter

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The dark side of the universe is whispering, but scientists are still not sure what it is saying.


Samuel Ting, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Nobel laureate particle physicist, said Wednesday that his $1.6 billion cosmic ray experiment on the International Space Station had found evidence of  “new physical phenomena” that could represent dark matter, the mysterious stuff that serves as the gravitational foundation for galaxies and whose identification would rewrite some of the laws of physics.

The results, he said, confirmed previous reports that local interstellar space is crackling with an unexplained abundance of high energy particles, especially positrons, the antimatter version of the familiar electrons that comprise electricity and chemistry. They could be colliding particles of dark matter. Or they could be could be coming from previously undiscovered pulsars or other astronomical monsters, throwing off wild winds of radiation.

The tantalizing news is that even with the new data, physicists cannot tell yet which is the right answer, but they are encouraged that they soon might be able to.

“I don’t think it makes you believe it must be dark matter, nor do I think it makes you believe it cannot be,” said Neal Weiner, a particle theorist at New York University.

The good news is that the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, as Dr. Ting’s instrument is called, is only two years into what could be a 20-year voyage on the space station, and is working brilliantly. “Over the coming months, A.M.S. will be able to tell us conclusively whether these positrons are a signal for dark matter, or whether they have some other origin,” Dr. Ting told an audience of physicists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

Written By: Dennis Overbye
continue to source article at nytimes.com

5 COMMENTS

  1. This article is why I hate science journalism.

    The dark side of the universe

    If dark matter is “the dark side”, what’s dark energy? Are there three sides?

    dark matter, the mysterious stuff that serves as the gravitational foundation for galaxies and whose identification would rewrite some of the laws of physics

    Really? Name one. Dark matter is most probably just a species of particle we haven’t proven it is yet. It might not even be an unknown species. There’s no reason to think there are extra laws. That’s what rival explanations say, but dark matter fits data better than MOND et al.

    local interstellar space is crackling with an unexplained abundance of high energy particles, especially positrons… They could be colliding particles of dark matter.

    I’m guessing “colliding with” was intended. We know that dark matter isn’t positrons, or it wouldn’t be dark.

    about 27 percent of the universe, by mass, is composed of some unknown form of matter unlike [atoms]

    Well, it could be neutrinos. Atomic nuclei make neutrinos.

    Impervious to almost everything except gravity

    Almost? There are only three other forces. Impervious to everything except weak and gravity; impervious to strong and electromagnetic; those would both make sense. WIMPS feel half the forces, OK?

    Discovering one of them could give a lift to new theories… not to mention explicating the nature of more than a quarter of creation.

    You have to tell your audience what electrons are, despite it coming up early in secondary school, but you say explicating instead of explaining? Meanwhile, why does everyone keep making a big deal of the mass ratios? If one set of postulates describes the behaviour of each of the three parts of the universe, the number of postulates in each set won’t be proportional to how much mass the parts have. “We only understand 4 %” my foot. Also, doesn’t understanding spacetime itself count for anything?

    the dark matter particles have mostly eluded direct detection

    Mostly? Either we’ve found them or we haven’t. Last I checked, we haven’t.

    The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is one of the most expensive, complicated and controversial experiments ever mounted in space.

    Why is it controversial? Because it was expensive? Everyone who understands it says it’s great, but that doesn’t stop those who don’t understand it having an opinion anyway.

    If the signal is coming from colliding WIMPs, the theory says, the ratio of positrons to electrons will rise as the energy of the positrons and electrons rises, flattens and then drops sharply… But the data presented Wednesday ranges in energy only from a few million to 350 billion electron volts.

    Why didn’t you say that at the start so I didn’t need to read the rest?

    • In reply to #2 by rmanoj:

      Here is a real physicist’s take on the issue: http://profmattstrassler.com/2013/04/03/ams-presents-some-first-results/

      I wanted to post this link as soon as the article went up, but didn’t get it in time before the first comment :) As Jos says, it reads much better than the journalist’s version. I wish real scientists take up the job of science journalism.

      Thanks for the link, it clarifies and rectifies many things in the above article. This is much more realistic. Science works in small steps. It takes time and that’s just the way it is. The whole thing seemed too easy to be true: namely for science to be so close to such a major breakthrough in one the biggest mysteries the universe.

  2. easy answer…its god talking to us

    “The dark side of the universe is whispering, but scientists are still not sure what it is saying.”

    (sarcasm with a dash of irony, in case anyone is thinking about an argument! :-) )

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