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Looks like we could have some dark matter news soon. I'm frequently astounded at what physicists piece together about the entire universe just by looking at space from the vicinity of our teensy little planet.
 
I hate the way they're teasing us with this, but if - I repeat, IF - they've discovered the nature of dark matter, this will make the discovery of the Higgs look very small and boring.  So I can't resist talking about it.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is the thing that looks like a fat white can sitting on the space station here.   In its first 18 months of operation, it's detected almost 8 billion electrons and their antiparticles - positrons - shooting through space.  If dark matter is made of weakly interacting massive particles, they may occasionally collide and turn into electron-positron pairs.  For a long time, Sam Ting - who won the Nobel prize for discovering the charmed quark - has wanted to look for these and learn more about dark matter.  He proposed the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer in 1995, and with the help of at least 500 other people the current version was delivered to the International Space Station on May 19, 2011.  They plan to release a paper on their results quite soon.

They aren't saying what they've seen!  But here's what Sam Ting has said:

"It will not be a minor paper."

and:

"We've waited 18 years to write this paper, and we're now making the final check.  I would imagine in two or three weeks, we should be able to make an announcement.  We have six analysis groups to analyse the same results. Physicists as you know - everybody has their own interpretations, and we're now making sure everyone agrees with each other. And this is pretty much done now."

So, stay tuned.  The BBC has a good article:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21495800

and so does Space.com:

http://www.space.com/19845-dark-matter-found-nasa-experiment.html

For more technical stuff on the experiment, try this:

http://ams.cern.ch/
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Rajiv Vyas's profile photoStephen Shankland's profile photo
 
Let's hope we can find some practical use of dark matter soon.
 
I'd say keeping the galaxy from flinging itself into a bunch of dust is a great practical application! However, I'd happily rid myself of my own WIMPs, which would significantly accelerate my weight-loss goals.
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