Tag Archives: Cogent

Dark Matter Eludes LUX

The LUX (Large Underground Xenon) experiment has just announced results from their first run, which gathered data for 85 days between April and August of this year. LUX is located a mile underground (to shield from cosmic rays and other interference) in an old mine in South Dakota, and employs a liquid Xenon detector with total mass of 370 kg. LUX is searching for WIMP dark matter particles which recoil directly off the nucleus of Xenon atoms in the detector.


Large Underground Xenon detector, Photo by Carlos Faham, CC Attribution 3.0 license

They have two important findings from this first swath of data. First, to within the sensitivity of their experiment, they detected no weakly interacting massive dark particles (WIMPs). And second, their experiment has much greater sensitivity than other experiments in the low mass range from about 5 GeV to 100 GeV (the proton rest mass is a bit less than 1 GeV). Thus it is placing much tighter constrains on the cross-section for dark matter to interact with a nucleus, and the density of dark matter at the Earth’s orbit. The previous largest Xenon-based experiment was XENON100 (for 100 kg total detector mass). With LUX, the sensitivity has improved over the results of that earlier experiment by around a factor of 20 for a possible 10 GeV WIMP mass, due to the larger target and better rejection of background events.


This chart is the most interesting portion of Fig. 5 from the LUX first results paper (reference below). The blue line shows the upper limit on the cross section dropping from 10^-40 cm² to less than 10-44 cm² as a function of WIMP mass, as the mass increases from about 5 to 12 GeV (X-axis above the chart). Note the Y-axis is logarithmic, so the new limit is orders of magnitude below other limits (various colored curves) and claimed possible detections (shaded areas).

These new LUX results are in direct conflict with possible detections from CoGeNT (small red-shaded area on chart), CRESST (yellow-shaded), CDMS- II (green-shaded area), and DAMA/LIBRA (grey-shaded area), all of which were suggesting detections with a WIMP dark matter mass around 10 GeV. Now certain assumptions are made about the astrophysical parameters such as the density of dark matter at the Earth being the same as the average in our part of the galaxy. But other experimental results are based on similar assumptions, so this does not explain the discrepancy.

Both CoGeNT and CDMS-II sit in the same Soudan Laboratory in Minnesota, one state over from where the LUX experiment resides. However different experiments use different atoms as targets: CoGeNT uses germanium, CDMS uses silicon, CRESST uses calcium tungstate crystals and DAMA/LIBRA uses thallium doped sodium iodide. These latter two experiments are both located in Italy, in a mountain tunnel. All of these experiments are attempting to discern a very faint signal against significant backgrounds. And perhaps earn a Nobel Prize in Physics as well. So it’s natural for the researchers on the associated teams to lean toward optimism It remains quite possible, and now seems more and more probable, that the experiments other than LUX are observing some unexplained non-dark matter background effect, so this is a very significant result.

LUX is not finished, of course. It’s just getting going. So we await their further results, with either a possible WIMP detection in the future, or even tighter limits on the existence of lower mass WIMPs.

References: – LUX consortium home page – D.S. Akerib et. al., 2013,  “First results from the LUX dark matter experiment at the Sanford Underground Research Facility” – LUX results are constraining WIMP parameter space – on the LUX results


Higgs Boson and Dark Matter, Part 1

The discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (the LHC, at CERN, near Geneva) was announced on the 4th of July, 2012. This new particle was the important missing component of the Standard Model of particle physics; the Standard Model has had great success in describing the three non-gravitational forces: electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force.

The mass of the Higgs is about 126 GeV (giga electron-Volts) and by way of comparison the proton mass is a bit under 1 GeV.  The Higgs particle is highly unstable, with a decay lifetime of only about one tenth of one billionth of one trillionth of a second (10^-22 seconds). While the  Higgs field pervades all of space, the particle requires very high energy conditions to “pop out” of the field for a very short while. The only place where these conditions exist on Earth is at the LHC.

The Higgs boson is not detected directly at LHC, but inferred (with high confidence) through the detection of its decay products. The main decay channels are shown in the pie chart below, and include bottom quarks, W vector bosons (which mediate the weak force), gluons (which mediate the strong force holding quarks inside protons and neutrons), tau leptons (very heavy members of the electron family), Z vector bosons (also weak force mediators), and even some photon decay channels. While the two photon channel is rare, much less than 1% of the decays, it is the most important channel used for the Higgs detection because of the “clean” signal provided.


What is the relationship between the Higgs and dark matter? In an earlier blog, , I discussed why the Higgs particle itself cannot be the explanation for dark matter. Dark matter must be stable; it must persist over the nearly 14 billion year lifetime of the universe. In today’s universe it’s very difficult and expensive to create a Higgs particle and it vanishes immediately.

But in the very early universe, at a tiny fraction of a second after its creation (less than the present-day Higgs boson lifetime!), the “temperature” and energy levels were so high that the Higgs particle (or more than one type of Higgs particle) would have been abundant, and as today it would have decayed to many other, lighter, particles. Could it be the source of dark matter? It’s quite plausible, if dark matter is due to WIMPs – an undiscovered, stable, weakly interacting massive particle. That dark matter is due to some type of WIMP is currently a favored explanation among physicists and cosmologists. WIMPs are expected from extensions to the Standard Model, especially supersymmetry models.

One possible decay channel would be for the Higgs boson to decay to two dark matter WIMPs. In such a decay to two particles (a WIMP of some sort and its anti-particle), each would have to have a rest mass energy equivalent of less than half of the 126 GeV Higgs boson mass; that is, the dark matter particle mass would have to be 63 GeV or less.

There may be more than one type of Higgs boson, and another Higgs family particle could be the main source of decays to dark matter. In supersymmetric extensions to the Standard Model, there is more than one Higgs boson expected to exist. In fact the simplest supersymmetric model has 5 Higgs particles! 

Interestingly, there are 3 experiments which are claiming statistically significant detections of dark matter, these are DAMA/LIBRA, COGENT,  and CDMS-II. And they are all suggesting a dark matter particle mass in the neighborhood of just 10 GeV. Heavy, compared to a proton, but quite acceptable in mass to be decay products from the Higgs in the early universe. It’s not a problem that such a mass might be much less than 63 GeV as the energy in the decay could also be carried off by additional particles, or as kinetic energy (momentum) of the dark matter decay products.

At the LHC the search is underway for dark matter as a result of Higgs boson decays, but none has been found. The limits on the cross-section for production of dark matter from Higgs decay do not conflict with the possible direct detection experiments mentioned above.

The search for dark matter at the LHC will actively continue in 2015, after the collision energy for the accelerator is upgraded from 8 TeV to 14 TeV (trillion electron-Volts). The hope is that the chances of detecting dark matter will increase as well. It’s a very difficult search because dark matter would not interact with the detectors directly. Rather its presence must be inferred from extra energy and momentum not accounted for by known particles seen in the LHC’s detectors.


Multi-component Dark Matter: Let there be Heavy and Let there be Light

Around 27% of the universe’s mass-energy is due to dark matter, according to the latest Planck satellite results; this finding is consistent with a number of other experiments as well. This is approximately 6 times more than the total mass due to ordinary matter (dominated by protons and neutrons) that makes up the visible parts of galaxies, stars, planets, and all of our familiar world.
The most likely explanation for dark matter is some kind of WIMP – Weakly Interacting Massive Particle. The amount of deuterium (heavy hydrogen) produced in the very early universe rules out ordinary matter as the primary explanation for the various “excess” gravitational effects we see in galaxies, groups and clusters of galaxies and at the largest distance scales in our observable universe.

WIMPs are thought to be a class of new, exotic particles, beyond the Standard Model. A favored candidate for dark matter is the lightest supersymmetric particle, although supersymmetry is as of yet unproven. The lightest such particle would be very stable, having nothing into which it could decay readily. A mass range of 5 to 300 GeV or so is the range in which most of the direct detection experiments looking for dark matter are focused (1 GeV = 1 giga-volt is a little more than the mass of a proton).

But there would certainly be more than one kind of such WIMP formed in the very early universe. These would be heavier particles, and most would quickly decay into lighter products, but there might still be some heavier WIMPs remaining, provided their lifetime was sufficiently long. Particle physicists are actively working on models with more than one component for dark matter, typically two-component models with a heavy particle above 100 GeV mass, and a lighter component with mass of order 10 GeV (more or less).

In fact there are observational hints of the possibility of both a light dark matter particle and a heavier one. The SuperCDMS team has announced a possible detection around 8 or 9 GeV. The COGENT experiment has a possible detection in the neighborhood of 10 GeV, and in general agreement with the SuperCDMS results.

ImageFermi satellite payload, photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

At the heavier end, the Fermi LAT gamma-ray experiment has made a possible detection of an emission line at 130 GeV which might result from dark matter decay. A pair of such gamma rays could be decay products from annihilation of a heavier dark matter particle with mass around 260 GeV. Or a particle of that mass could decay into some other particle plus a photon with about half of the heavy dark matter mass, e.g. 130 GeV.

Kajiyama, Okada and Toda have built one such model with a light particle around 10 GeV and a heavier one in the 100 to 1000 GeV region. They claim their model is consistent with the observational limits on dark matter placed by the XENON 100 experiment.

Gu has developed a model with 2 dark matter components with magnetic moments. Representative values of the heavy dark matter particle mass at 262 GeV and the lighter particle mass at 20 GeV can reproduce the observed overall dark matter density. He also finds the decay lifetime for the heavier particle state to be very long, in excess of 10^20 years, or 10 billion times the age of the universe, thus in this model the heavy dark matter particle easily persists to the present day. In fact, he finds that the heavy particle dominates with over 99% of the total mass contribution to dark matter. And a heavy dark matter particle with the chosen mass can decay into the lighter dark matter particle plus an energetic 130 GeV gamma ray (photon). This might explain the Fermi LAT results.

Furthermore, the existence of two highly stable dark matter particles of different masses would help explain some astrophysical issues related to the formation of galaxies and their observed density profiles. Mikhail Medvedev has numerically simulated galaxy formation using supercomputers, with a model incorporating two dark matter components. This model results in a better fit to the observed velocities of dwarf galaxies in the Local Group than does a model with a single dark matter component. (The Local Group includes our Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy, the Magellanic Clouds and a number of dwarf galaxies.) His model also helps to explain the more flattened density profiles in galaxies and the smaller numbers of dwarf galaxies actually observed relative to what would be predicted by single dark matter component models.

Occam’s razor says one should adopt the simplest model that can explain observational results, suggesting one should add a second component to dark matter only if needed. It seems like a second dark matter component might be necessary to fully explain all the results, but we will require more observations to know if this is the case.

References: Y. Kajiyama, H. Okada and T. Toda 2013, “Multicomponent dark matter particles in a two-loop neutrino model”
P. Gu 2013, “Multi-component dark matter with magnetic moments for Fermi-LAT gamma-ray line” M. Medvedev 2013, “Cosmological Simulations of Multi-Component Cold Dark Matter”




SuperCDMS Collaboration Possible Detection of Dark Matter

Hard on the heels of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) positron excess and possible dark matter report, we now have a hint of direct dark matter detection from the SuperCDMS Collaboration this month. A recent blog here on discusses the detection of excess positron flux seen in the AMS-02 experiment on board the Space Shuttle. The two main hypotheses for the source of excess positrons are either a nearby pulsar or dark matter in our Milky Way galaxy and halo.


Photo: CDMS-II silicon detector, Credit: SuperCMDS Collaboration

CDMS-II (CDMS stands for Cryogenic Dark Matter Search) is a direct dark matter detection experiment based in the Soudan mine in Minnesota. The deep underground location shields the experiment from most of the cosmic rays impinging on the Earth’s surface. Previously they had reported a null result based on their germanium detector and ruled out a detection. Now they have more completely analyzed data from their silicon detector, which has higher sensitivity for lower possible dark matter masses, and they have detected 3 events which might be due to dark matter and report as follows.

“Monte Carlo simulations have shown that the probability that a statistical fluctuation of our known backgrounds could produce three or more events anywhere in our signal region is 5.4%. However, they would rarely produce a similar energy distribution. A likelihood analysis that includes the measured recoil energies of the three events gives a 0.19% probability for a model including only known background when tested against a model that also includes a WIMP contribution.”

So essentially they are reporting a possible detection with something ranging from 95% to 99.8% likelihood. This is a hint, but cannot be considered a firm detection as it rises to the level of perhaps 3 standard deviations (3 sigma) of statistical significance. Normally one looks to see a 5 sigma significance for a detection to be well confirmed. If the 3 events are real they suggest a relatively low dark matter particle mass of around 8 or 9 GeV/c² (the proton mass is a little under 1 GeV/c², and the Higgs boson around 126 GeV/c²).


Figure: Error ellipses for CDMS-II and CoGeNT, assuming a dark matter WIMP explanation. Blue ellipses are the 68% (dark blue) and 90% (cyan) confidence levels for the CDMS-II experiment. The purple ellipse is the 90% confidence level for CoGeNT.

The figure shows the plane of dark matter (WIMP, or weakly interacting massive particle) cross-section on the y-axis vs. the WIMP mass on the x-axis. Note this is a log-log plot, so the uncertainties are large. The dark blue region is the 1 sigma error ellipse for the CDMS experiment and the light blue region is the 90% confidence error ellipse. The best fit is marked by an asterisk located at mass of 8.6 GeV/c² and with a cross-section a bit under 2 x 10^-41 cm². But the mass could range from less than 6 to as much as 20 or more GeV/c². And the cross-section uncertainty is over two orders of magnitude.

However, this is quite interesting as the error ellipse for the mass and interaction cross-section from this CDMS-II putative result overlaps well with the (smaller) error ellipse of the CoGeNT results. The CoGeNT experiment is a germanium detector run by a different consortium, but based in the same Soudan Underground Laboratory as the CDMS-II experiment! COGENT sees a possible signal with around 2.8 sigma significance as an annual modulated WIMP wind, with the modulation in the signal due to the Earth’s motion around the Sun and thus relative to the galactic center. The purple colored region in the figure is the CoGeNT 90% confidence error ellipse, and it includes the CDMS-II best fit point and suggests also a mass of roughly 10 GeV/c².

The DAMA/LIBRA experiment in Italy has for years been claiming a highly significant 9 sigma detection of a WIMP (dark matter) wind, but with very large uncertainties in the particle mass and cross-section. However both the COGENT results and this CDMS-II possible result are quite consistent with the centroid of the DAMA/LIBRA error regions.

And 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.

What we can say at this point is the hottest region to hunt in is around 6 to 10 GeV/c² and with a cross section roughly 10^-41 cm². Physicists may be closing in on the target area for a confirmed weakly interacting dark matter particle detection. We await further results, but the pace of progress seems to be increasing.

References: – Recent first results from AMS for positron excess – SuperCDMS Collaboration web site – “Dark Matter Search Results Using the Silicon Detectors of CDMS II” – Kevin McCarthy’s presentation at the American Physical Society, April 15, 2013 – CoGeNT website – Discussion of CoGeNT 2011 results  – DAMA/LIBRA results summary, 2013

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”