Physicists may have made a giant breakthrough this week. A team of scientists believe that the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a highly sensitive particle physics detector, may have discovered dark matter particles. The team published its findings on September 18 in the journal Physical Review Letters. The findings excited many scientists, who think this may be a breakthrough in physics. The findings were presented at a meeting of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
The AMS is located on the International Space Station (ISS). Its creation was a collaboration from an international team of scientists. The AMS detected 41 billion particles from space, providing new insight into the cosmic rays beyond Earth. The researchers believe the machine also detected the presence of positrons in the cosmic rays. Positrons are like the equivalent of electrons in dark matter. They have a positive charge instead of a negative charge like electrons, but they have the same mass as electrons. Scientists believe that positrons are extremely rare. New positrons may come from very dense stars, like pulsars.
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer may help scientists ultimately learn how positrons come into existence and where antimatter comes from.
There seems to be an excess of positrons in the universe, which means there may be a previously undiscovered source of positrons. Scientists believe positrons may come from antimatter colliding.
"The new AMS results show unambiguously that a new source of positrons is active in the galaxy," said Paolo Zuccon, who is an assistant professor of physics at MIT. "We do not know yet if these positrons are coming from dark matter collisions, or from astrophysical sources such as pulsars. But measurements are underway by AMS that may discriminate between the two hypotheses."
Scientists believe that about 85 percent of the universe is made up of dark matter, or antimatter. However, there is still much we don't know about this substance. Scientists have never been able to see antimatter. They have only ever been able to observe the effects of antimatter on the universe. The team behind the AMS hopes to use the new tool to learn where antimatter comes from, and to learn more about how it acts and what it does.
"Dark matter is there," Zuccon said. "We just don't know what it is. AMS has the possibility to shine a light on its features. We see some hint now, and it is within our possibility to say if that hint is true."