China’s Dark Matter Foray
Quantum physics has seen tremendous advances and a new hunt is in place: the search for dark energy. As this search continues by American and European scientists, China continues to close the gap in scientific prowess. For example, according to recently reported results, China-led space mission has revealed auspicious symptoms of dark matter.
Despite no direct evidence of dark matter was found, this still remains the first observational data courtesy of China’s very first mission exclusively designed for astrophysics. Welcome the dark horse in the competition.
For centuries, the hunt for dark matter has haunted the dreams of astrophysicists. Ever since Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky first discovered that the mass of all of the particles within the Coma cluster of galaxies was responsible for a mere one percent of the mass required to generate sufficient gravity necessary for the galaxy in order to protect itself from dissembling. This was the spark to a flame in the search for dark matter– physicists have inferred dark matter’s existence from this seemingly invisible existence.
The Chinese spacecraft, Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE), was designed to search for the indirect decay signal of dark matter which is known as weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPS). This spacecraft was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, approximately 994 miles (1,600 km) west of Beijing, back in December of 2015. The primary tool of this spacecraft is a stack of thin, crisscrossing detector strips that assume a common arrangement which allow for the combination of observations in one direction.
This spacecraft is even more phenomenal, for it is also capable of observing the energy, vector, and electric charge of particles which compose cosmic rays– especially electrons and positrons which are the former’s antimatter counterpart.
Forces of Cosmic Darkness
The currently enigmatic cosmic rays seem to originate from normal astrophysical phenomena such as supernovae wherever in the galaxy. However, if dark matter is truly consisted of WIMPs, these particles would sporadically annihilate each other and create electron-positron pairs. These pairs then become detectable by presenting themselves as excess quantity of matter amidst the amalgam of particles hailing from traditional astrophysical objects.
Within its first operative 530 days, DAMPE spacecraft detected 1.5 million cosmic ray electrons and positrons above a certain specific energy level. Usually, researchers expect to observe a smooth curve of particles-to-energy, however, previous experiments indicated towards an anomalous disruption within such a curve. The reason as to why this data is significant is because these results confirmed such a deviation.
Chang Jin, leader of the collaboration of the Chinese Academy of Science’s (CAS’s) Purple Mountain Observatory (PMO) located in Nanjing, said the following in a recent Science Magazine article: “It may be evidence of dark matter. We have a compelling anomaly in the high-energy section, it goes up and then goes down again.
We really didn’t expect this, and it cannot be explained by any of the existing knowledge of physics.” Chang Jin also noted that the DAMPE probe which was previously constructed for a three-year mission in space, is now expected to last five years, courtesy of the smooth functionality of both the spacecraft and its instruments.
However, be warned– there is no full guarantee that the DAMPE spacecraft will solve the dark mystery for good. According to the Science Magazine report and David Spergel, an astrophysicist at Princeton University, the Chinese adventure into the universe of dark matter will enrich our current understanding of cosmic ray acceleration, and will ultimately reveal mysterious, underlying physical processes located within the spatial shocks near supernovae and pulsars.
Continue to be fascinated by the universe.