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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."


"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:

and so does

For more technical stuff on the experiment, try this:
James Salsman's profile photoDavid Foster's profile photoVít Tuček's profile photoJohn Baez's profile photo
Thanks for putting this on my radar. I hadn't read about this experiment and was just starting to hear the buzz about a possible result.
I learned about this via Nature Blogs [ ] which, I think, gives a very 'low key, matter-of-fact' view of it:

"Neal Weiner, a theoretical physicist at New York University in New York City who was present in the audience, says that even if Ting does announce a potential dark matter signal, it will need to be interpreted with care. A very abrupt bump of the type that would point unambiguously to dark matter should already have shown up in existing data, he says. More than likely, then, even if Ting’s events do show a positron excess, physicists will continue to debate whether that is produced by some more ordinary astrophysical source, or dark matter."
I was all prepared to say "Yeah right".. until I saw the part about Sam Ting was the one who said it won't be a minor paper.
Well, is science becoming a consumer product too?
An announcement about sth. big coming soon ...

But nevertheless, if they found sth. it's ok to be to excited about it.
Frankly, "NASA press release" is sort of becoming like TIME's "Man of the year" - a warning signal, not an endorsement. I hope this is a genuinely press-release worthy result, but after alien life and arsenic bacteria letdowns I'm not holding my breath.
Now I am wondering about the range they are finding this spike in. If it is a range we can reproduce on earth, then we either need to get working on some collider experiments, or start explaining why we don't get anything special when we collide electrons. 
I think there's probably a trigger happy PR person at NASA these days. Sometimes they hit it out of the park with that Curiosity video and sometimes it's just over-hyped like the water on mars. But it's always exciting to hear about these things...
Ah, thanks +Kam-Yung Soh . They might want to add a visible disclaimer: "We're not NASA". :)

Edit: that was a bit unkind. But I do think large projects lately tend to go a bit overboard with the press release-press embargo gambit, and for little practical purpose. Unlike a commercial venture, a research project doesn't really gain anything from a five-minute limelight exposure after all.
Five dollars on the dark matter for a Mask of Hanuman, a California-made mojo hand, and....something from the Venice Beach Freak Show.  (I'm thinking pitch cards from there that are real, not the downloadable versions).
Hmm. Rumors about the content of paper that circulate through the non-technical press tend to be spectacularly inaccurate. :)

+John Baez Heard anything through the science grapevine? 
I took this photo
+David Foster wrote: "Now I am wondering about the range they are finding this spike in. If it is a range we can reproduce on earth, then we either need to get working on some collider experiments, or start explaining why we don't get anything special when we collide electrons."

Dark matter needs to be electrically neutral to be dark.  So, it could decay into electron-positron pairs but not pairs of electrons.  If it decays into electron-positron pairs, the reverse reaction would happen when you collide electron-positron pairs, not electrons.

The Z boson is a neutral particle that only interacts via the weak force, and it was very visible at LEP, a particle accelerator that collided electrons and positrons:

This experiment went up to an energy of 220 GeV or so.  According to the BBC article, the new AMS paper will report the positron-electron ratio in the energy range of 0.5 to 350 Gigaelectronvolts.  "This covers territory at the top end where some other experiments have already reported tantalising hints of dark matter."
+Yonatan Zunger wrote: "Rumors about the content of paper that circulate through the non-technical press tend to be spectacularly inaccurate. :)"

Yes, but usually I can see that they're silly.    The reports I linked to here, and the Nature article +Kam-Yung Soh mentioned:

look reasonable.

"Heard anything through the science grapevine?"

No, alas.  Presumably Ting has his 6 data analysis teams locked up in a dungeon.
When are they going to strap a asteroid defense system on this overpriced bastard? Have you seen the video from Russia? I hope that we get something more meaningful than a Magnetic Spectrometer monster dill**os for the $50 trillion we have wasted on this erector set.
Asteroid defense will probably require big rockets that are easier to launch from the ground.  I consider the International Space Station to be a waste of money overall, but the figure of $50 trillion is a vast exaggeration:

"As of 2010 NASA budgeted $58.7 billion for the station from 1985 to 2015, or $72.4 billion in 2010 dollars. The cost is $150 billion including 36 shuttle flights at $1.4 billion each, Russia's $12 billion ISS budget, Europe's $5 billion, Japan's $5 billion, and Canada's $2 billion."

Figuring out the nature of dark matter would, as far as I can tell, be the most important scientific discovery made on the International Space Station - for better or worse.  Or am I forgetting something?
No, you are not. The ISS is mostly a waste of money and time. 

And yes, from earlier, I should have said e-/e+ beam, not colliding electrons. That was sloppy. 
Whoops!  I'll fix that typo, to reduce the total confusion in the universe.  Thanks.  I also consider the space shuttle to be a waste of money, overall, but that's a slightly different issue.
Only GOD has all the answers about the UNIVERSE. If you believe in him he will explain them all to you some day. be patient. 
+Joe Tabak sure, but I'd prefer to get at least some of the answers while I can still act on them -- or benefit from someone else's acting on them!
+Joe Tabak It will be a cruel irony, to finally meet God, have him ready to answer all the questions of the Universe, and then to realize that you have not prepared yourself to understand the answers He gives. 
+John Baez said "No, alas.  Presumably Ting has his 6 data analysis teams locked up in a dungeon."

The word at Brookhaven is that he's very capable of exactly that :)
Press releases before papers is becoming a disturbing trend. If the first thing you do is a press conference with laymen what kinds of questions are you going to get?
+Heather Vandagriff which side of the bet are you interested in, and what are those things in your stakes? There's no way to make supermassive black holes at z>6 without more than enough ~100,000 solar mass black holes to explain all dark matter, among other reasons, so I'd gladly stake $5 against positive AMS results.
+James Salsman I have a bad habit of making bad bets, but I will bet you 10 Internets, that this is a positive result pointing towards WIMPs in space. 
+David Foster I will see your 10 Internets, and raise you a menagerie of lolcats about the cost of WIMP detection experiments. 
Make it 2.5 menageries and you are on. 
Thanks, +Vít Tuček.  In case anyone is wondering, this is not the big announcement I'm waiting for... it's about another experiment, which has just failed to find WIMPs.
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