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Dark Matter: CERN’s Hunt For Its Existence

By: Lynda Sun

Dark matter has been at the forefront of astronomers’ minds for many years and if its existence were proved, it could lead to legendary discoveries and uncover many answers as to how our universe came to be. 10 years ago, a team operating the world’s largest particle collider discovered the Higgs boson particle. Now, they’re looking to be the ones at the head of the search for dark matter.

Dark matter is composed of particles that don’t emit, absorb, or reflect light. Scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, say that dark matter roughly makes up 27% of our universe. Although no one has actually observed dark matter, many scientists came to the mutual agreement that it likely, if not almost certainly, exists.

The Large Hadron Collider, after being remodeled and upgraded, is on a mission to prove that theory. The collider was built in 2008, shut down in 2013, and finally restarted in April of this year. It’s located almost 328 feet underground, near the city of Geneva, and is chilled to -271.3 degrees Celsius to comply with temperatures in space. Two particle beams of protons made to collide within the machine operate at nearly the speed of light and scientists use high-tech sensors and monitors to analyze the products created by the collision.

The scientists hope to create something that resembles dark matter and help explain what our universe is made up of. But to no one’s surprise, such discovery takes time. In addition, it isn’t easy to identify whether a particle is dark matter. Scientists need to make sure that the particle doesn’t emit any light and that it can withstand time without decaying-- since, theoretically, dark matter can exist for billions of years. If it doesn’t meet all of the requirements, then the team would have to try again, and the process could last until 2029 when the next round of testing begins.

The spectrum for dark matter is also becoming wider and wider as technology advances and a greater range of possibilities come to light. According to Tim Tait, a dark matter theorist at UC Irvine, “The null results from searches, such as at the LHC, have inspired many other possible explanations for the nature of dark matter, from fuzzy dark matter made of particles with masses as low as 10−22 eV to primordial black holes with masses equivalent to several suns. In light of this, the dark-matter community has begun to cast a wider net to explore a larger landscape of possibilities.”

As the exploration continues, what matters most is consistency. Although a breakthrough might not happen today, scientists and those watching around the world can look forward to the day humanity takes another step in understanding our universe and our origins. “If we can figure out the properties of dark matter, we learn what our galaxy is made of,” said Joshua Ruderman, an associate professor of physics at New York University. “It would be transformative.”


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