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Press Release 11-074
Search for Dark Matter Narrowed by New Data From XENON100

Collaboration reveals results from 100-day experiment

Illustration showing the XENON100 detector which detects Weakly Interacting Massive Particles.

The XENON100 detector uses liquid xenon to detect Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs).
Credit and Larger Version

April 14, 2011

View videos about the XENON100 detector and why we study dark matter and dark energy.

Today, scientists from the XENON collaboration announced the result from their search for the elusive component of our universe known as dark matter. After analyzing one hundred days of data taken with the XENON100 experiment, they see no evidence for the existence of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs), the leading candidates for the mysterious dark matter. The XENON100 experiment is operated deep underground at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory of the Italian National Institute for Physics (INFN).

While the group observed three candidate events, two had been expected in conjunction with background radiation. This new result translates into the highest sensitivity reported by any dark matter experiment to date, and serves to further constrain the new physics models for particle dark matter, which will help target future WIMP searches. A paper about the results has been submitted to the journal Physical Review Letters and posted to arXiv, the e-print archive hosted by the Cornell University Library.

A direct observation of WIMPs would link the largest observed structures in the universe with the world of subatomic particle physics. While no detection can be claimed yet, the level of sensitivity achieved by the XENON100 experiment may allow an actual detection in the near future.

XENON100 is an ultra-sensitive device, with specially designed layers of water, lead, copper and other shielding, to filter out radiation and other sources of energy that could cause a false signal. This is also why the experiment is located beneath a mile of rock and Earth--these materials help shield the detector from cosmic radiation that is constantly bombarding Earth.

The XENON100 detector uses 62 kg of liquid xenon as a WIMP target, and measures the tiny charge and light signals that are expected when rare collisions between WIMPs and xenon atoms take place. Xenon--the same element used to make those ultra-bright car headlights that have a bluish tint--is used in this experiment because it has a large nucleus that WIMPS can collide with. When such a collision occurs, it creates a bluish light and a charge that scientists can detect with highly sensitive cameras positioned at each end of the detector.

Cosmological observations consistently point to a picture of our universe where ordinary matter as we know it makes up only about 4 percent, while new, yet unobserved forms of so-called dark matter and dark energy make up the rest. This is consistent with ideas on small scales too, since attractive extensions of the Standard Model of particle physics suggest that exotic new particles, which are perfect dark matter candidates, exist. This makes Weakly Interacting Massive Particles of interest to both cosmology and particle physics. Thus, the search for WIMPs is well motivated, and a direct detection is a central piece of information that could confirm this new picture of our universe. New data from the 2011 run, and the collaboration's plan to build a much larger experiment with 2500 kg of xenon in the coming years, promise an exciting decade towards the solution of one of nature's most fundamental mysteries.

The XENON collaboration consists of 60 scientists from 14 institutions in the U.S. (Columbia University, N.Y., University of California Los Angeles: and Rice University, Houston), China (Shanghai Jiao Tong University), France (Subatech Nantes), Germany (Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik Heidelberg, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster), Israel (Weizmann Institute of Science), Italy (Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso, INFN e Università di Bologna), Netherlands (Nikhef Amsterdam), Portugal (Universidade de Coimbra) and Switzerland (Universität Zürich).

XENON100 is supported by the collaborating institutions and by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy in the U.S., by the Swiss National Foundation in Switzerland, by l'Institut national de physique des particules et de physique nucléaire and La Région des Pays de la Loire in France, by the Max-Planck-Society and by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft in Germany, by the Weizmann Institute of Science, by the German-Israeli Minerva Gesellschaft and GIF in Israel, by FOM in the Netherlands, by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia in Portugal, by the Instituto Nazionale di FIsica Nucleare in Italy and by STCSM in China.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Lisa Van Pay, NSF, (703) 292-8796, lvanpay@nsf.gov

Program Contacts
James Whitmore, NSF, (703) 292-8908, jwhitmor@nsf.gov

Principal Investigators
Elena Aprile, Columbia University, (212) 854-3258, age@astro.columbia.edu

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2015, its budget is $7.3 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 48,000 competitive proposals for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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Photo of stars with pie chart on top showing 4% atoms, 23% dark matter and 73% dark energy.
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Physicists are using the most sensitive detector yet, the XENON100, to try to glimpse dark matter.
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Image of Tom Statler of the National Science Foundation's Astronomy Division.
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Tom Statler of NSF
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