A group of scientists has proposed a mission to send atomic clocks, which are extremely accurate devices that use oscillations within atoms to tell time, to space to help uncover the nature of dark matter.
The science and other stuff to know
Dark matter is a mystery that has puzzled scientists for decades, and it represents up to 85 percent of all matter in the universe. But despite its abundance, dark matter has proved completely enigmatic. Why? No one has ever seen it and no instrument has directly detected it because it’s completely invisible and emits no light or energy. We only know it exists due to indirect observations of its gravitational influence over planets, stars, and galaxy clusters.
However, we may finally be able to uncover the nature of dark matter, thanks to a group of international scientists led by Yu-Dai Tsai, a physicist at the University of California, Irvine.
Tsai and his team, according to a study published in Nature Astronomy, have proposed a mind-boggling space mission (dubbed SpaceQ) to send two atomic clocks close to the Sun to search for ultralight dark matter. These clocks, which are still in development, are referred to as “quantum sensors.”
Typically, atomic clocks tell time by measuring the rapid oscillations of atoms. And scientists believe dark matter can induce oscillations in the very constants of nature. These oscillations modify the transition energies of atoms and nuclei in predictable ways. Thus, they could affect the operation of the clocks, according to the study.
Joshua Eby, from Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU), said in a statement, “The more dark matter there is around the experiment, the larger these oscillations are. So the local density of dark matter matters a lot when analyzing the signal.”
Sending atomic clocks near the Sun could help scientists uncover the mystery of the universe, the nature of dark matter, and more.
Tsai explained in an email to VICE, “Dark matter is one of the most important remaining mysteries in astronomy and cosmology, given its unknown and elusive nature. If we could find dark matter and understand its properties, we can understand the evolution of our universe, and understand many astrophysical measurements better, including the velocity distribution of these objects on the small scale (from small galaxies to galaxy clusters).”
“This will also be one of the most significant breakthroughs in particle physics as it is one of the final remaining ingredients to our understanding of particle physics as well,” he added.
At this point, the SpaceQ mission is still just an idea but it offers a new, innovative, and potentially effective approach to the search for and understanding of dark matter.
Meanwhile, newly discovered gravitational lenses are offering promising results in detecting dark matter, according to a new study.