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February 07, 2013 06:02 PM

Dark Matter Experiment Almost Ready To Begin

Lead, SD

For more than a half-century, Homestake was a bustling gold mine. But in just a few weeks, the landmark could begin mining for another, more mysterious substance: dark matter.

"A lot of our Universe is unknown to us right now. There's probably five times more dark matter in the Universe than there are tables and chairs and the normal matter that we see," Sanford Laboratory Science Director Jaret Heise said.

4,850 feet below the Earth's surface, scientists have been working to assemble and run tests on one-of-a-kind equipment that is designed to find the elusive particles.  Now, the tests are complete and the final preparations are being made before the experiment goes live.

"We've spent a lot of time testing all the bits of the detector, all the systems, making sure everything is nominal in order to reach a day when we can turn it on and start collecting data. That just happens to be today," LUX Science Coordinator Simon Fiorucci said.

LUX stands for Large Underground Xenon and will use the element xenon to highlight dark matter particles if they pass through the detector.

The addition of liquid xenon to the LUX is one of the last steps before the experiment can go live. It's the largest of its kind and could begin gathering information in a matter of weeks.

"Within a month or two of this, and possibly less, we will actually have reached that point where we are at least equal and probably have surpassed every other experiment," Fiorucci said.

Although there's no guarantee that researchers will find anything and even if they do, there's no telling how the information would be applied, Fiorucci says that's beside point.

"That's just what science is, finding out the unknown and advancing the total amount of knowledge of the human race," Fiorucci said.

The LUX detector should be filled with the liquid xenon in less than a week.  After that, the xenon will need to be further purified before the experiment will officially begin.

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