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Dark Sector Experiments


A dark energy experiment was recently searching for a so-called scalar “chameleon field”. Chameleon particles could be an explanation for dark energy. They would have to make the field strength vanishingly small when they are in regions of significant matter density, coupling to matter more weakly than does gravity. But in low-density regions, say between the galaxies, the chameleon particle would exert a long range force.

Chameleons can decay to photons, so that provides a way to detect them, if they actually exist.

Chameleon particles were originally suggested by Justin Khoury of the University of Pennsylvania and another physicist around 2003. Now Khoury and Holger Muller and collaborators at UC Berkeley have performed an experiment which pushed millions of cesium atoms toward an aluminum sphere in a vacuum chamber. By changing the orientation in which the experiment is performed, the researchers can correct for the effects of gravity and compare the putative chameleon field strength to gravity.

If there were a chameleon field, then the cesium atoms should accelerate at different rates depending on the orientation, but no difference was found. The level of precision of this experiment is such that only chameleons that interact very strongly with matter have been ruled out. The team is looking to increase the precision of the experiment by additional orders of magnitude.

For now the simplest explanation for dark energy is the cosmological constant (or energy of the vacuum) as Einstein proposed almost 100 years ago.

Large_Underground_Xenon_detector_inside_watertank

The Large Underground Xenon experiment to detect dark matter (CC BY 3.0)

Dark matter search broadens

“Dark radiation” has been hypothesized for some time by some physicists. In this scenario there would be a “dark electromagnetic” force and dark matter particles could annihilate into dark photons or other dark sector particles when two dark matter particles collide with one another. This would happen infrequently, since dark matter is much more diffusely distributed than ordinary matter.

Ordinary matter clumps since it undergoes frictional and ordinary radiation processes, emitting photons. This allows it to cool it off and to become more dense under mutual gravitational forces. Dark matter rarely decays or interacts, and does not interact electromagnetically, thus no friction or ordinary radiation occurs. Essentially dark matter helps ordinary matter clump together initially since it dominates on the large scales, but on small scales ordinary matter will be dominant in certain regions. Thus the density of dark matter in the solar system is very low.

Earthbound dark matter detectors have focused on direct interaction of dark matter with atomic nuclei for the signal. John Cherry and co-authors have suggested that dark matter may not interact directly, but rather it first annihilates to light particles, which then scatter on the atomic nuclei used as targets in the direct detection experiments.

So in this scenario dark matter particles annihilate when they encounter each other, producing dark radiation, and then the dark radiation can be detected by currently existing direct detection experiments. If this is the main channel for detection, then much lower mass dark matter particles can be observed, down to of order 10 MeV (million electron-Volts), whereas current direct detection is focused on masses of several GeV (billion electron-Volts) to 100 GeV or more. (The proton rest mass is about 1 GeV)

A Nobel Prize awaits, most likely, the first unambiguous direct detection of either dark matter, or dark energy, if it is even possible.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chameleon_particle – Chameleon particle

http://news.sciencemag.org/physics/2015/08/tiny-fountain-atoms-sparks-big-insights-dark-energy?rss=1 – dark energy experiment

http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2008/10/29/dark-photons/ – dark photons

http://scitechdaily.com/physicists-work-on-new-approach-to-detect-dark-matter/ – article on detecting dark matter generated dark radiation

http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.114.231303 – Cherry et al. paper in Physical Review Letters

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