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Scientists proud of dark matter study that turns up nothing

In first set of results, scientists studying dark matter have come back empty.
By Caroline Lee   |   Oct. 31, 2013 at 1:06 PM   |   Comments

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(UPI) -- Scientists at the Homestake Gold Mine in South Dakota running the biggest, most sensitive dark matter detector yet released its first round of results yesterday -- and they found nothing.

The Large Underground Xenon dark matter experiment, or LUX, consists of a vat of 368 kilograms of liquid xenon to minus 110 degrees Celsius, surrounded by a tank of water. LUX sits 4,850 feet underground at the old mine, shielded from cosmic rays.

An international team of researchers watched for three months to see if any WIMPS -- weakly interacting massive particles -- would pass through the rock and reveal themselves by interacting with the xenon, as predicted by previous experiments.

But they discovered nothing -- and scientists on the team are proud of how little they saw.

"In 25 years of searching, this is the cleanest signal I've seen," said Richard Gaitskell, physicist and researcher on the team.

The discovery of nothing is significant in that, if confirmed, it would rule out one theory about dark matter, which astronomers have said makes up a quarter of the cosmos.

So far scientists are more clear on what dark matter isn't, rather than what it is, and now they know it isn't high-mass WIMPS, as LUX should have detected more than a thousand such particles.

The LUX experiment will run through all of next year. Researchers will next move to add another factor of sensitivity to the device, and run the experiment again.

“Just because we don’t see anything in the first run doesn’t mean we won’t see anything in the second,” Gaitskell said.

Follow @cmlee and @UPI on Twitter.
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