Missing matter may be found in mine-shaft

THE FIRST hints that scientists may be on the path to solving one of the biggest conundrums in the universe were revealed yesterday by physicists in search of the mysterious missing matter of space.

About 90 per cent of the universe's mass cannot be accounted for by telescopic obser-vations, which is why it is called "dark matter", and the search has begun to find out what it is.

One theory is that it is composed of large, Jupiter-like planets which do not emit radiation and so cannot be seen. Another more likely theory is that it is composed of invisible sub-atomic particles that are not easily detected. Scientists have set up instruments in Europe's deepest mine-shaft at Boulby, Cleveland, to detect them as they pass through the earth.

Neil Spooner, a physicist at the University of Sheffield, said he believes the dark matter is made up of weakly interacting massive particles.

These are so numerous that billions of them pass through a person each second, he said.The detectors show "bumps" that do not have a conventional explanation, such as background "noise". He called these "unexpected events".