Scientists Uncover New Physics in the Search for Dark Matter

Abstract Astrophysics Dark Matter Mystery

An estimated 85% of the universe’s mass is thought to be made up of dark matter, a hypothetical form of matter.

No, scientists still have no idea what dark matter is. However, MSU scientists helped discover new physics while searching for it.

Wolfgang “Wolfi” Mittig and Yassid Ayyad began their search for dark matter—also referred to as the missing mass of the universe—in the heart of an atom around three years ago.

Even though their exploration did not uncover dark matter, the scientists nonetheless discovered something that had never been seen before that defied explanation. Well, at least an explanation on which everyone could agree.

“It’s been something like a detective story,” said Mittig, a Hannah Distinguished Professor in Michigan State University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and a faculty member at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, or FRIB.

“We started out looking for dark matter and we didn’t find it,” he said. “Instead, we found other things that have been challenging for theory to explain.”

In order to make their finding make sense, the team went back to work, conducting further tests and accumulating more data. Mittig, Ayyad, and their colleagues reinforced their argument at Michigan State University’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory or NSCL.

The researchers discovered a new route to their unanticipated destination while working at NSCL, which they revealed in the journal Physical Review Letters. Additionally, they revealed intriguing physics at work in the ultra-small quantum realm of subatomic particles.

The scientists showed, in particular, that even when an atom’s center, or nucleus, is overcrowded with neutrons, it can find a route to a more stable configuration by spitting out a proton instead.

Shot in the dark

Dark matter is one of the most well-known yet least understood things in the universe. Scientists have known for decades that the universe contains more mass than we can perceive based on the motions of stars and galaxies.

Six times as much unseen mass as regular matter that we can see, measure, and classify is required for gravity to hold celestial objects to their courses. Although researchers are certain that dark matter exists, they have yet to find where and devise how to detect it directly.

“Finding dark matter is one of the major goals of physics,” said Ayyad, a nuclear physics researcher at the Galician Institute of High Energy Physics, or IGFAE, of the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Speaking in round numbers, scientists have launched about 100 experiments to try to illuminate what exactly dark matter is, Mittig said.

“None of them has succeeded after 20, 30, 40 years of research,” he said.

“But there was a theory, a very hypothetical idea, that you could observe dark matter with a very particular type of nucleus,” said Ayyad, who was previously a detector systems physicist at NSCL.

This theory centered on what it calls a dark decay. It posited that certain unstable nuclei, nuclei that naturally fall apart, could jettison dark matter as they crumbled.

So Ayyad, Mittig, and their team designed an experiment that could look for a dark decay, knowing the odds were against them. But the gamble wasn’t as big as it sounds because probing exotic decays also lets researchers better understand the rules and structures of the nuclear and quantum worlds.

The researchers had a good chance of discovering something new. The question was what that would be.

Help from a halo

When people imagine a nucleus, many may think of a lumpy ball made up of protons and neutrons, Ayyad said. But nuclei can take on strange shapes, including what are known as halo nuclei.

Beryllium-11 is an example of a halo nuclei. It’s a form, or isotope, of the element beryllium that has four protons and seven neutrons in its nucleus. It keeps 10 of those 11 nuclear particles in a tight central cluster. But one neutron floats far away from that core, loosely bound to the rest of the nucleus, kind of like the moon ringing around the Earth, Ayyad said.

Beryllium-11 is also unstable. After a lifetime of about 13.8 seconds, it falls apart by what’s known as beta decay. One of its neutrons ejects an electron and becomes a proton. This transforms the nucleus into a stable form of the element boron with five protons and six neutrons, boron-11.

But according to that very hypothetical theory, if the neutron that decays is the one in the halo, beryllium-11 could go an entirely different route: It could undergo a dark decay.

In 2019, the researchers launched an experiment at Canada’s national particle accelerator facility, TRIUMF, looking for that very hypothetical decay. And they did find a decay with unexpectedly high probability, but it wasn’t a dark decay.

It looked like the beryllium-11’s loosely bound neutron was ejecting an electron like normal beta decay, yet the beryllium wasn’t following the known decay path to boron.

The team hypothesized that the high probability of the decay could be explained if a state in boron-11 existed as a doorway to another decay, to beryllium-10 and a proton. For anyone keeping score, that meant the nucleus had once again become beryllium. Only now it had six neutrons instead of seven.

“This happens just because of the halo nucleus,” Ayyad said. “It’s a very exotic type of radioactivity. It was actually the first direct evidence of proton radioactivity from a neutron-rich nucleus.”

But science welcomes scrutiny and skepticism, and the team’s 2019 report was met with a healthy dose of both. That “doorway” state in boron-11 did not seem compatible with most theoretical models. Without a solid theory that made sense of what the team saw, different experts interpreted the team’s data differently and offered up other potential conclusions.

“We had a lot of long discussions,” Mittig said. “It was a good thing.”

As beneficial as the discussions were — and continue to be — Mittig and Ayyad knew they’d have to generate more evidence to support their results and hypothesis. They’d have to design new experiments.

The NSCL experiments

In the team’s 2019 experiment, TRIUMF generated a beam of beryllium-11 nuclei that the team directed into a detection chamber where researchers observed different possible decay routes. That included the beta decay to proton emission process that created beryllium-10.

For the new experiments, which took place in August 2021, the team’s idea was to essentially run the time-reversed reaction. That is, the researchers would start with beryllium-10 nuclei and add a proton.

Collaborators in Switzerland created a source of beryllium-10, which has a half-life of 1.4 million years, that NSCL could then use to produce radioactive beams with new reaccelerator technology. The technology evaporated and injected the beryllium into an accelerator and made it possible for researchers to make a highly sensitive measurement.

When beryllium-10 absorbed a proton of the right energy, the nucleus entered the same excited state the researchers believed they discovered three years earlier. It would even spit the proton back out, which can be detected as a signature of the process.

“The results of the two experiments are very compatible,” Ayyad said.

That wasn’t the only good news. Unbeknownst to the team, an independent group of scientists at Florida State University had devised another way to probe the 2019 result. Ayyad happened to attend a virtual conference where the Florida State team presented its preliminary results, and he was encouraged by what he saw.

“I took a screenshot of the Zoom meeting and immediately sent it to Wolfi,” he said. “Then we reached out to the Florida State team and worked out a way to support each other.”

The two teams were in touch as they developed their reports, and both scientific publications now appear in the same issue of Physical Review Letters. And the new results are already generating a buzz in the community.

“The work is getting a lot of attention. Wolfi will visit Spain in a few weeks to talk about this,” Ayyad said.

An open case on open quantum systems

Part of the excitement is because the team’s work could provide a new case study for what is known as open quantum systems. It’s an intimidating name, but the concept can be thought of like the old adage, “nothing exists in a vacuum.”

Quantum physics has provided a framework to understand the incredibly tiny components of nature: atoms, molecules, and much, much more. This understanding has advanced virtually every realm of physical science, including energy, chemistry, and materials science.

Much of that framework, however, was developed considering simplified scenarios. The super small system of interest would be isolated in some way from the ocean of input provided by the world around it. In studying open quantum systems, physicists are venturing away from idealized scenarios and into the complexity of reality.

Open quantum systems are literally everywhere, but finding one that’s tractable enough to learn something from is challenging, especially in matters of the nucleus. Mittig and Ayyad saw potential in their loosely bound nuclei and they knew that NSCL, and now FRIB could help develop it.

NSCL, a National Science Foundation user facility that served the scientific community for decades, hosted the work of Mittig and Ayyad, which is the first published demonstration of the stand-alone reaccelerator technology. FRIB, a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science user facility that officially launched on May 2, 2022, is where the work can continue in the future.

“Open quantum systems are a general phenomenon, but they’re a new idea in nuclear physics,” Ayyad said. “And most of the theorists who are doing the work are at FRIB.”

But this detective story is still in its early chapters. To complete the case, researchers still need more data and more evidence to make full sense of what they’re seeing. That means Ayyad and Mittig are still doing what they do best and investigating.

“We’re going ahead and making new experiments,” said Mittig. “The theme through all of this is that it’s important to have good experiments with strong analysis.”

Reference: “Evidence of a Near-Threshold Resonance in 11B Relevant to the β-Delayed Proton Emission of 11Be” Y. Ayyad, W. Mittig, T. Tang, B. Olaizola, G. Potel, N. Rijal, N. Watwood, H. Alvarez-Pol, D. Bazin, M. Caamaño, J. Chen, M. Cortesi, B. Fernández-Domínguez, S. Giraud, P. Gueye, S. Heinitz, R. Jain, B. P. Kay, E. A. Maugeri, B. Monteagudo, F. Ndayisabye, S. N. Paneru, J. Pereira, E. Rubino, C. Santamaria, D. Schumann, J. Surbrook, L. Wagner, J. C. Zamora and V. Zelevinsky, 1 June 2022, Physical Review Letters.
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.129.012501

NSCL was a national user facility funded by the National Science Foundation, supporting the mission of the Nuclear Physics program in the NSF Physics Division.

18 Comments on "Scientists Uncover New Physics in the Search for Dark Matter"

  1. Actually, dark matter is the medium of light existing everywhere and generates all “electromagnetic phenomena”. Most mainstream physicists just keep a blind eye at it because of Einstein’s special relativity which has denied its existence, while special relativity has been disproved years ago. The fatal mistake of special relativity is that the time defined by Lorentz Transformation is no longer the time measured with physical clocks which can be easily shown through the analysis of clock time.

  2. BibhutibhusanPatel | September 7, 2022 at 11:08 am | Reply

    Dark matter/energý exists,is a concept yet and take much time to understand the same.However,òbservations based on this concept are to continue without any cost.For the time now search for this particle being not known,is not possible.

  3. “None of them has succeeded after 20, 30, 40 years of research,” he said.

    Well, what theory has been used the whole time? Is the Big Bang theory a theory or a fact? Nobody seems to want to blame the theory.

    It is impossible to understand dark matter because of the “theory” that a cloud of gas and dust must turn into a star with nothing but gravity. This means that the force of gravity is inevitably generated by the normal matter itself. 95% of the mass of our universe has no role at all. Gravity becomes a free energy that normal gets to use whenever it wants including if the matter is at absolute zero. Unfortunately, gravity doesn’t create energy, energy creates gravity. The actual “Big Bang” was a collision in space with two objects that contained the mass of the observable galaxies. Our universe essentially turned itself into a gargantuan particle collider creating quark plasma shrapnel as the expanding galaxies. The collision created an anisotropic expansion of matter that will appear to be an accelerating, expanding universe if it is mistakenly assumed the entire universe is expanding.

    Gravity is created by space just like Einstein said. Unfortunately, when he decided to go with the theory that he previously called the physics of “abominable”, he lost all hope of using space to create gravity. That’s why he spent the last half of his life unable to understand quantum gravity. Why he picked the big bang theory is truly his biggest “blunder”.

    Our universe is an extremely pressurized, absolute zero field of sterile electron neutrinos. All energy, including gravity, is a manipulation of this field. Black holes are absolute minimum entropy matter that are made of nothing but separated quarks that use the field as the catalyst. The strong force is between quarks and sterile electron neutrinos. Once quarks have been separated from a sufficient enough reaction, it is the sheer density and pressure of space that keeps the quarks apart indefinitely. As a result, the strongest electromagnetic radiation in the universe is created which are cosmic and gamma rays. This is what black holes are made of.

    Quark plasma creates all the naturally occurring elements all by itself from the outside of the mass inward. First are neutrons and then the beta minus decay reaction creates the rest until a surface forms. The first sign of optical light a black hole creates explains the “ring stars” that scientists don’t understand. Our planet is merely a phase of a black hole turning into a rock. Venus shows what our planet was before and Mars is showing after.

    The Big Bang theory makes it impossible to understand dark matter. Only a paradigm shift like the one I’ve mentioned above will finally explain it. These decades of confusion will be over. It is the theory of everything.

  4. The position of plasma cosmology is remarkably unscientific, lacking a rigorous mathematical description of the plasma universe and any predictions that withstand observation. Although it is true that no scientific theory is set in stone, one does not question the scientific status quo with words alone.

    IOW: show your work.

  5. You want me to show my work? Ok.

    Go to any of the particle colliders on Earth. What you will see are scientists colliding atoms to create quark plasma which is trillions of degrees. That’s what our universe did 13.8 billion years ago except the two, maximum entropy “particles” possessed the mass of the observable galaxies. The galaxies are expanding because they are shrapnel. The collision created an anisotropic expansion of matter just like any collision on Earth would. These two objects are among trillions in our universe. They weren’t the only ones.

    Our universe has no concept of time or size. Humans decided to involve time because they wanted a religious explanation to our universe. They got it with the the Big Bang theory. I always laugh when I see an atheist defending the Big Bang theory. A priest forced them to believe everything they know about the universe. They never seem to know this. It is the biggest scientific contradiction a person could make.

    Now, what’s the “work” with the Big Bang theory? Time didn’t exist and then it did. What was here before time? Nothing? Ok, then how is the first law of thermodynamics supposed to work? Are you supposed to just ignore it? People always ask “did the universe come from nothing?” and people who think they know what’s going on say “no, the universe didn’t come from nothing”. Ok, then what was here if time wasn’t? Just because the Big Bang theory completely obliterates the first law doesn’t mean people get to use a double standard to explain it. Either everything was here or it wasn’t. It’s either the galaxies expanding or the universe. Science picked the wrong choice. Hubble, and many of his peers, never accepted Georges Lamaîtres misinterpretation of what Hubble found.

    How did everything get hot initially? Where is the “work” on that? All I see is a magical scenario where the hottest plasma in the universe came from nowhere. I see no work at all on that subject either.

    Where is the “work” on the accelerating, expanding universe? What’s pushing the galaxies? Nothing? The theory needs to show its “work” but it can’t show anything.

    So, I just explained my “work”. I simultaneously explained where the matter came from, why it was hot, and why it is expanding. What “work” from the Big Bang theory explains any of that? Again, it is impossible to do “work” if time doesn’t even exist to do it.

  6. Dark matter is bits of black holes.. bits of neutrinos combine with neutrinos so make matter as we know it… black holes are neutrino-less space/concentrated dark matter… when matter collapses it releases neutrinos which is support glue for our matter… dark matter is known matter at its base…

  7. Bits of dark matter combine with neutrinos i meant in different combos to make our discernable matter…

  8. Regarding the universe, I believe that there does exist a special inertial reference frame at any local neighborhood, but instead of “spacetime” it is the one attached to the local medium of light – aether, and aether is a fluid material filling up the entire visible part of the universe and delivering all electromagnetic forces. The visible part of the universe is not the entire universe, but a part of the universe I call “sky”. There may be numerous skies in the universe, between which no light can go through. Light will be reflected back at the boundary of a sky which is similar to the boundary of atmosphere of the earth, as shown by the cosmic microwave background gradually dissipated by the viscosity of aether. As a material, aether has gravitation too. It is aether that plays the role of “dark matter” providing extra gravitation in binding stars in galaxies. Aether also plays the role of “dark energy” pushing galaxies away from each other. The wave in the particle-wave duality actually is the wave of aether as all particles are bathed in aether and any motion of particles disturbs their surround aether to generate aether waves. Aether has extremely small viscosity, but it still has viscosity as shown by the rotation of the outer layer of the sun slower than that of its core caused by the viscosity of its surrounding aether.

    Each sky is always in an oscillation process: each cycle starts from a very small volume with high pressure of aether compressed by gravitation and inertia. Aether pressure pushes all compressed matter acceleratingly into its surrounding space like an explosion due to the dominance of aether pressure in the sky, followed by a decelerating expansion of the sky due to the dominance of gravitation caused by the decrease of the pressure proportional to the volume of the sky faster than the decrease of gravitation proportional to the surface area. Then, the expansion stops and an implosion starts with all matter pulled back acceleratingly due to the dominance of gravitation, followed by a decelerating implosion due to the dominance of aether pressure until it reaches its minimal volume ready for the next cycle. Our sky now is in the stage of accelerating expansion.

  9. Avraam Jack Dectis | September 8, 2022 at 8:36 am | Reply

    Dark matter, dark energy, etc are just fudge factors to make the obsolete gravity model work.

    Gravity can be explained with two simple assumptions:

    1) Space is a fluid.

    2) The presence of mass inhibits the creation of the entanglements that form space and, conversely, the lack of mass promotes the entanglements that form space.

    These two assumptions allow you to kick to the curb dark matter, dark energy, curved space and gravitons.

    See Two Assumptions Gravity Model for details.

  10. The term “dark matter” means nothing but a temporary word reserved for something that human ‘observed’ but didn’t know what it is. So it could turn out to be a complete nonsense when the observation is finally explained factually in the end. A likely ‘explain’ of DM is the result of some unknowns or errors such as in the calculation or interpretaion of the star mass-gravity relationship as ‘assumed’ now. The literal meaning of Dark Matter is counterintuitive and nonsense.

  11. Matter = Energy.

    Light is energy.

    Matter equals light. Light has mass, which is why/how gravity influences light.

    Point #2 : Light, thus mass, is (fairly) evenly distriuted throughout the cosmos. THEREFORE every point in space experiences gravity not accounted for by observed massive objects (stars, planets, black holes, and your Momma.) The gravity of the ambiant light flying freely forever through the Universes.

  12. …No, scientists still have no idea what dark matter is.

    You should put the scientists, because some alien scientists on some strange world might have idea what that is and how actually it works…

    …However, MSU scientists helped discover new physics while searching for it.
    Yeah, more of is there that is for sure!!! Give’em more of what is not looked for… more and more physics…

  13. Matter generates space, the space generated around each fundamental piece of matter can not occupy the space around any other piece of matter. So like merging bubbles space expands and the particles move towards their common center, call this gravity. Energy keeps the collapsing matter from becoming black holes. The rapidly expanding space bubble allows the generation of dark energy/Matter thus more space/gravity is generated by this dark matter, accelerating the expansion process. My view gleaning the ever expanding info on the universe, everything and life.

  14. The irony of this deep discussion of energy and matter, though very interesting, is nothing more than an exercise of obfuscation. All of this was created by the God. The same God who sent his son, Jesus Christ to die on a Cross for our sin. If you require answers, you need to look no further than the Holy Bible. Thousgh, you may think of the Bible as foolishness, it is truly a source of many answers to Science, wisdom and Knowledge. Jesus Christ is Lord over all, including Science.

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