For nearly a whole century, scientists worked had to uncover the mystery that dark matter is.
It’s an elusive substance that travels through the universe and probably makes up a significant part of its mass, but it hasn’t been yet discovered with practical experiments.
A team of scientists used a new technique known as “quantum squeezing” to significantly improve the search speed for a dark matter candidate in lab conditions.
The discoveries, posted today in the journal Nature, rely on an impressively and as-of-yet undiscovered particle known as the axion.
Theories say that axions are possibly billions or trillions of times smaller than electrons. Their origin may be the Big Bang itself when they were supposedly spawned in unimaginable numbers – maybe just enough to justify the existence of dark matter.
Discovering this fantastic particle is a lot like looking for a quantum needle in one galactic haystack.
However, good news may be around the corner. Researchers on a project relied on the Haloscope At Yale Sensitive To Axion Cold Dark Matter (HAYSTAC) experiment report that they have boosted the efficiency of their technique past a crucial obstacle set by the laws of thermodynamics.
The group is formed from scientists at JILA, a joint research institute of the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, for short).
Kelly, Backes, one of the two lead authors of the new paper and graduate student at Yale University, stated:
“It’s a doubling of the speed from what we were able to do before.”
The new approach helps researchers better separate the amazingly faint signals of possible axions from the known noise found in minimal dimensions in Nature, often referred to as “quantum fluctuations.”
According to the study’s co-author Konrad Lehnert, the team’s chances of discovering an axion over the next few years are still comparable to those of a regular citizen winning the big prize of a lottery NIST fellow at JILA. However, the odds will get better over time.
Lenhert, also a professor at the Department of Physics at CU Boulder, said:
“Once you have a way around quantum fluctuations, your path can just be made better and better.”
Yale organizes HAYSTAC, and it works as a partnership with JILA and the University of California, Berkeley.
Daniel Palken, the co-first author of the new study, explained that what makes axions so hard to be observed is what makes it such a great candidate for dark matter – it’s lightweight, has no electric charge and typically doesn’t interact with ordinary matter.
“They don’t have any of the properties that make a particle easy to detect,” stated Palken.
However, there is a silver lining – If axions get to pass through a strong enough magnetic field, a little number of them can transform into waves of light, which is a phenomenon that scientists are capable of detecting.
Researchers made numerous efforts to find the signals in strong magnetic fields of outer space.
The HAYSTAC experiment, though, is located on Earth.
The project, which first shared part of its data in 2017, is based on an ultra-cold facility on the Yale campus to build up powerful magnetic fields and then attempt to detect the signal of axions turning into light.
As our second lead editor, Anna C. Mackinno provides guidance on the stories Great Lakes Ledger reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Anna. Anna received a BA and and MA from Fordham University.