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April 27, 20157

Hunting for the WIMPs of the universe

To detect dark matter called Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, or WIMPs, you have to go a long way -- down!

Dark matter is a scientific mystery. We can't see or touch it. But physicists like Dan McKinsey theorize it must exist because, without it, the universe would look quite different.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), McKinsey and a team of scientists from across the U.S. and Europe are hard at work on the Large Underground Xenon, or LUX, experiment.

Nearly a mile straight down an old mine shaft at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, S.D., the team searches for the existence of one possible type of dark matter called Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, or WIMPs. Theory holds these WIMPs are everywhere, all around us, all the time. With LUX, the team may now have the right kind of instrument to detect them.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1003660, Particle Astrophysics at Yale: The LUX Dark Matter Search.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

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Division of Physics (PHY)

The mission of the Division of Physics of NSF's Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences is to support fundamental research across the intellectual frontiers of physics, to support research that has broader impacts on other fields of science and on the health, economic strength, and defense of society, to enhance education at all levels and share the excitement of science with the public through integration of education and research, and to be a steward for the physics community so as to maintain the intellectual capital essential for future advances.

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A newly discovered dwarf galaxy orbiting our own Milky Way has offered up a surprise--it appears to be radiating gamma rays, according to an analysis by physicists at Carnegie Mellon, Brown, and Cambridge universities. The exact source of this high-energy light is uncertain at this point, but it just might be a signal of dark matter lurking at the galaxy’s center.

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