An end to our darkest secret? Scientists close to explaining dark matter

A £1.3bn experiment could soon reveal the true nature of the mysterious dark matter

Science Editor

Scientists are close to solving one of the biggest mysteries of the universe. They have found tantalising evidence that might soon explain dark matter – the 95 per cent of cosmic “stuff” that we know exists, yet cannot see or detect with conventional scientific instruments.

The first results of a £1.3bn experiment on the International Space Station suggest that dark matter is composed of sub-atomic particles that permeate all regions of space, with a combined gravitational force that influences the movements of the biggest objects, from planets and solar systems to stars and galaxies.

For decades, cosmologists have argued over the nature of dark matter. Estimates show that we can see only about 5 per cent of the matter in the universe – composed of visible objects such as stars and galaxies – and that a further 24 per cent of mass is in the form of invisible dark matter, with the rest of the Universe composed of something even more mysterious called dark energy.

Some cosmologists have suggested that the “missing mass” of the universe is made of massive objects such as brown dwarf stars that do not emit light, whilst other experts have pointed to the possibility of a cosmic-wide ocean of sub-atomic particles that permeate everywhere, yet do not interact with ordinary matter.

Now the alpha magnetic spectrometer (AMS) instrument on the space station has detected the strongest signs yet that dark matter may indeed be composed of sub-atomic particles known as neutralinos, which are so weakly-interacting that they pass straight through the Earth without stopping.

Professor Sam Ting, the head of the AMS experiment, released the first 18 months of data from the AMS experiment yesterday at a scientific seminar at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) in Geneva – but disappointed many by declining to confirm that dark matter had actually been found.

“These observations show the existence of a new physical phenomena, whether from a particle physics or an astrophysical origin,” Professor Ting said. Essentially, the results support the existence of dark matter in the form of sub-atomic particles, but other explanations for the results are still possible, he said.

“I’ve never made a mistake and this is a very difficult experiment,” Professor Ting said in reply to questions about whether he had further preliminary results to support the neutralino theory.

“It took us 18 years to build this detector. Nobody will be foolish enough to repeat this so we want to do it correctly,” he said.

The AMS experiment does not detect neutralinos directly. Instead, it is designed to detect the electrons and positively charge particles called positrons that are, in theory, given off when neutralinos collide in a process known as annihilation.

The AMS has indeed detected an excess of positrons that supports the sub-atomic particle model of dark matter, but these positively-charged particles could also be the result of nuclear interactions going on in distant pulsars – rotating neutron stars in space.

“AMS is the first experiment to measure to 1 per cent accuracy in space. It is this level of precision that will allow us to tell whether our current positron observation has a dark matter or pulsar origin,” Professor Ting said.

“Over the coming months, AMS will be able to tell us conclusively whether these positrons are a signal of dark matter, or whether they have some other origin,” he said.


Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
peopleLynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance moves audience to tears
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon


Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Deputy Head of Science

£22000 - £36000 per annum + MPR / UPR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our cli...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London