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Deepest Underground Dark-Matter Detector to Start Up in China

The PandaX project will look for dark matter in the heart of a marble mountain

3 min read
Deepest Underground Dark-Matter Detector to Start Up in China
King Under The Mountain: In the PandaX experiment, a vat of liquid xenon is stored beneath hundreds of meters of rock. With luck, the isolation will keep things quiet enough to sense signs of dark matter.
Photo: Scott Stephenson

In the heart of a mountain in China’s Sichuan province, underneath 2400 meters of stone, researchers are powering up the most ambitious effort yet to directly detect some of the strangest stuff in the universe: dark matter. Early this year, the PandaX (Particle and Astrophysical Xenon) experiment will start collecting data in hopes of finding evidence of the elusive particles, thought to constitute more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe.

Physicists first hypothesized the existence of dark matter to explain the “missing mass” problem—the fact that galaxies have a greater gravitational effect than their visible matter can explain. The current theory holds that dark matter is composed of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) that interact with ordinary matter only through gravity and the “weak force,” the extremely short-range fundamental force responsible for nuclear decay. If a WIMP bumps directly into the nucleus of an atom of ordinary matter, the theory goes, it might interact with it and cause the emission of other particles, creating visible evidence. Such interactions, however, would be incredibly rare.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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