Researchers believe dark matter mystery to be solved in 10 years with underground detectors

01/22/2014 - 00:00

Dark matter — the mysterious stuff that is thought to make up most of the matter in the known universe — may reveal itself during the next decade, one prominent scientist predicts.

When the moment comes, it will result in "a pivotal paradigm shift in physics," Gianfranco Bertone, a physicist with the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, said in a talk on dark matter research at a Royal Society Frontiers of Astronomy conference in London in November.

The elusive substance may show itself as researchers set out to test "the existence of some of the most promising dark matter candidates, with a wide array of experiments, including the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN and a new generation of astroparticle experiments underground and in space," Bertone said. [The Hunt for Dark Matter: Images and Photos]

The universe contains much more matter than scientists can currently detect. Models suggest that this unseen matter makes up about 85 per cent of the universe, but nobody is sure what this missing matter is made of. Telescopes can't observe it, because it gives off absolutely no light.

So far, the only evidence of dark matter's existence comes from the gravitational effects it exerts on visible matter. "We see the effects on all scales with astrophysical and cosmological observations," Bertone said.

But despite promising hints from numerous recent experiments, the hunt for dark matter's true identity goes on.

The key candidates for the stuff so far remain restricted to the realm of theory — weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), believed to constitute the bulk of dark matter, and axions, assumed to be much lighter and colder particles. It is thought that there are a lot of axions around, and that they constantly rain down on Earth from space.

A failure to find dark matter in the near future would imply that researchers might be on the wrong track and need to rethink their approach to the problem, Bertone said. [Twisted Physics: 7 Mind-Blowing Findings]