Searching for dark matter with a holoscope

(ORDO NEWS) — A new paper in the European Physical Journal Plus presents a new method for finding a type of dark matter known as axions; a modified version of this method may find useful applications in real life.

Most of the universe is now thought to be made up of dark matter – mysterious substances that, because they do not interact with light or any other form of electromagnetic radiation, are virtually undetectable.

Physicists have been searching for it for decades using various methods; Nicolo Crescini, now at the Neel Institute in Grenoble, France, developed a new method for searching for a type of dark matter, axions, while working at the Laboratorio Nazionali di Legnaro in Padova, Italy.

Axions are hypothetical particles that were introduced in the 1970s to fill a gap in the Standard Model of particle physics, namely the strong CP problem. “Studying axions is a good way to catch two birds with one stone – dark matter and the strong CP problem – with one shot – an axion,” says Crescini.

The methods used to search for axions differ from typical particle physics experiments, which involve the collision of fast moving particles in accelerators.

Instead, the experiments are looking for weak electromagnetic anomalies that can be detected at extremely low energies and indicate the connection of axions with other fundamental particles.

“Most of these experiments are looking for the connection of axions with photons,” Crescini adds. “This approach looks for a bond with electrons, which is more difficult but can give richer results.”

It involves placing a sample of magnetic material in a very well-controlled environment close to absolute zero temperature and observing it for anomalous changes in magnetization that could indicate axion activity. The system is a type of magnetometer known as a haloscope after the Milky Way’s dark matter halo.

This experiment, called QUAX (short for “Quaerere Axions” where “quaerere” is Latin for “search”), is not yet sensitive enough to detect axions.

“We need to scale it up and use more sensitive sensors,” says Crescini. “However, this study also has practical applications: we have patented a modified version that can be used as a commercial magnetometer.”

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