Do we have a CoGeNT direct detection of Dark Matter?

CoGeNT detector during installation

CoGeNT detector during installation (Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratories)

(cogent = clear, logical, convincing)

The race to demonstrate direct detection of WIMP (weakly interacting massive particle) dark matter is heating up with this month’s release of results from the CoGeNT experiment, located in a mine in northern Minnesota*. They have just published results collected during the first 15 months of data taking. CoGeNT, as the Ge in the name indicates, uses a detector made of germanium.

There are quite a few such experiments that seek to measure the impact of WIMP dark matter as it directly strikes nucleons, that is, protons and neutrons, in some target material. The cross sections expected for such direct impact are extremely low, thus the experiments require relatively large detectors, high sensitivity, and long runs to gather sufficient statistical evidence of impacts and separate good events from background events due to other causes. The most favored candidate is a WIMP with mass somewhat under 10 GeV to perhaps as high as 200 GeV (the proton rest mass is .938 GeV, a GeV is a billion electron volts, and the mass is stated in energy equivalent units).

While XENON, CDMS (located in the same Soudan laboratory in Minnesota) and other direct experiments have not detected dark matter, for a number of years the DAMA/LIBRA project in Italy has been claiming the detection of an annual modulation of a dark matter signal. The modulation is said to be due to movement of the Earth toward and then away from the galactic center as it orbits the Sun each year, with the signal peaking in the second quarter of the year.

The CoGeNT experiment is also now claiming a detection of an annual modulation with about 2.7 or 2.8 sigma (standard deviations) of statistical significance, which is at the margin of a good detection. DAMA/LIBRA, which uses a thallium-doped sodium iodide crystal (salt) detector, claims a very high statistical significance of 8.9 sigma. Generally, 3 sigma of significance is considered sufficient for a good detection and 5 sigma would be considered a solid detection. The DAMA/LIBRA events have until now been unconfirmed, and have appeared to be in conflict with limits from other experiments including XENON and CDMS.

The CoGeNT results are consistent with DAMA/LIBRA in two respects. First, they together imply a relatively low mass of 5 to 12 GeV for the dark matter WIMP. Second, both the CoGeNT and DAMA experiments are consistent with an annual modulation peak occurring sometime between late April and the end of May, as is expected based on the Earth’s orbit combined with the Sun’s movement relative to the galactic center.

While the CDMS results appear to set limits which contradict both the CoGeNT and DAMA results, there are a number of uncertainties in the actual sensitivity of the respective experiments that may allow resolution of the apparent discrepancy.

We eagerly await further results from CoGeNT and from other experiments including CRESST and COUPP that are well suited to measurement of a relatively low mass WIMP particle such as CoGeNT is claiming to have detected.

*The mine is located in a state park, and tours down into the mine run during the summer months. It is also near to the beautiful Boundary Waters Canoe area that crosses into Canada, where I took a ten day canoe excursion as a Boy Scout, decades ago.


C. Aalseth et al. 2011, “Search for an Annual Modulation in a P-type Point Contact Germanium Dark Matter Detector”

D. Hooper and C. Kelso 2011 “Implications of CoGeNT’s New Results for Dark Matter”


About darkmatterdarkenergy

Astrophysicist. Cryptocurrency and technology analyst. Macro investor. View all posts by darkmatterdarkenergy

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