Jan 28, 2021

BASE Antimatter Experiment opens up new possibilities in the search for cold dark matter

Posted by in categories: cosmology, particle physics

BASE opens up new possibilities in the search for cold dark matter.

The Baryon Antibaryon Symmetry Experiment (BASE) at CERN’s Antimatter Factory has set new limits on how easily axion-like particles in a narrow mass range around 2.97 neV can turn into photons, the particles of light. BASE’s new result, published by Physical Review Letters, describes this pioneering method and opens up new experimental possibilities in the search for cold dark matter.

Axions, or axion-like particles, are candidates for cold dark matter. From astrophysical observations, we believe that around 27% of the matter-energy content of the universe is made up of dark matter. These unknown particles feel the force of gravity, but they barely respond to the other fundamental forces, if they experience them at all. The best accepted theory of fundamental forces and particles, called the Standard Model of particle physics, does not contain any particles that have the right properties to be cold dark matter.

Since the Standard Model leaves many questions unanswered, physicists have proposed theories that go beyond it, some of which explain the nature of dark matter. Among such theories are those that suggest the existence of axions or axion-like particles. These theories need to be tested, and many experiments have been set up around the world to look for these particles, including at CERN. For the first time, BASE has turned the tools developed to detect single antiprotons, the antimatter equivalent of a proton, to the search for dark matter. This is especially significant as BASE was not designed for such studies.

“BASE has extremely sensitive detection systems to study the properties of single trapped antiprotons. These detectors can also be used to search for signals of particles other than those produced by antiprotons in traps. In this work, we used one of our detectors as an antenna to search for a new type of axion-like particles,” says Jack Devlin, a CERN research fellow working on the experiment.

Compared to the large detectors installed in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), BASE is a small experiment. It is connected to CERN’s Antiproton Decelerator, which supplies it with antiprotons. BASE captures and suspends these particles in a Penning trap, a device that combines electric and strong magnetic fields. To avoid collisions with ordinary matter, the trap is operated at 5 kelvins (around-268 degrees Celsius), a temperature at which exceedingly low pressures, similar to those in deep space, are reached. In this extremely well-isolated environment, clouds of trapped antiprotons can exist for years at a time. By carefully adjusting the electric fields, the physicists at BASE can isolate individual antiprotons and move them to a separate part of the experiment. In this region, very sensitive superconducting resonant detectors can pick up the tiny electrical currents generated by single antiprotons as they move around the trap.

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