Scientific commotion over dark matter: scientists are not sure what exactly they have discovered
During experiments using a particle detector, scientists observed an unexpected phenomenon. By now they themselves are not sure what it was. But they talked about this at an online symposium. Not everyone managed to dispel skepticism.
In the underground laboratory of the Institute of Nuclear Physics in the Italian town of Gran Lasso, scientists from the international XENON project are searching for dark matter. For this, one and a half hundred scientists make ultra-precise measurements of elementary particles. In one experiment, they discovered an unusual increase in particle collisions. Scientists themselves do not yet know the exact cause, but suggest that it may be an undetected, but theoretically predicted ultralight particle axion. If this is true, then it will become a sensation in particle physics. This finding would confirm physical theories about matter and its origin. According to the BBC, the discovery of such a particle is comparable to the discovery of the Higgs beon, for which scientists received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013. The axions emitted by the Sun are not direct evidence of the existence of dark matter, but scientists believe that axions affect the attraction between stars - a quality attributed to dark matter.
Another explanation for particle activity may be the appearance of neutrinos with new, previously unexplored qualities, as Spiegel writes, namely increased magnetism. Both explanations change the way modern astrophysics understands star behavior, says Evan Shockley, a scientist at the University of Chicago and a member of the XENON project.
The third explanation is the error of observation. For the experiment, scientists used a container in which there were 3.2 tons of pure xenon, a gas without color and odor. When a cosmic particle collided with xenon electrons, an electric discharge occurred. The space flows of the Gran Sasso mountain range are known, so scientists took into account collisions of a certain power. There were 50 more of them calculated.
Science magazine interviewed other dark matter hunters. A possible explanation may be tritium contamination of the detector. Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, often falling into a xenon tank, breaks down and releases an electron. This smudges the picture and leads to errors.
However, the physical world is agitated. Scientists urge each other to be patient. And the experiment participants have already announced a new project with a new xenon detector, which will confirm or refute the results. If the current experiment began in 2016, then new results will appear no earlier than 2025.