Science

China’s Dark Matter Satellite Picks Up Unusual Space Signal

A team of Chinese scientists may have found a blip in data collected by their dark matter satellite that could lead to a better understanding of dark matter. The satellite has measured more than 3.5 billion high-energy particles in its study of cosmic rays, and scientists say they’ve finally caught a break—literally.

dark matter satellite
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Dark matter satellite searches out origins of dark matter

China launched its Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) satellite in 2015, and the goal of the satellite is to learn more about dark matter and where it came from, explains Space.com. The DAMPE satellite is named for Sun Wukong, China’s mythical Monkey King, and it’s China’s first observatory in space. In Chinese, “Wu” means “understanding” while “kong” translates to void,” which is why the dark matter satellite is so aptly named because its purpose is to understand dark matter, or “the void.”

Scientists believe that approximately five-sixths of the universe’s matter is made from dark matter, according to Space.com. However, physicists haven’t been able to observe dark matter yet due to various scientific challenges, and this is where it’s hoped that the dark matter satellite will be able to fill in some gaps in knowledge.

Scientists have been searching for decades for proof that dark matter does indeed exist, but now a team of scientists reports that they’ve found a blip in the data from China’s dark matter satellite. The scientists published their latest findings in the journal Nature.

A hint about the existence of dark matter?

Some physicists believe that dark matter may decay into particles that can be detected when it’s annihilated. It’s hoped that the DAMPE satellite could record this, and the scientists who’ve been tracking the data from the satellite think the blip they found might be a hint about the existence of dark matter.

As Science Magazine explains, the dark matter satellite detected 1.5 million positrons and electrons that were above a particular energy threshold in cosmic rays. Researchers plotting particle numbers against their energy would expect the data to show a smooth curve. Past experiments pointed to the possibility of a break in the curve, and now the dark matter satellite has confirmed that break.

Astrophysicist Chang Jin leads the collaboration of four institutes working on the DAMPE project, and he explained that the break in the curve of plotted data could be evidence that dark matter exists, or it could be from “some other cosmic ray source.” He also said that they will need more data to confirm exactly what the dark matter satellite is seeing.

Initially, they were expecting the satellite to last about three years, but because of how smoothly it’s operating, they now look for a five-year life span, which they believe will allow it to record over 10 billion cosmic ray events.