Dark Matter Experiment Detects Nothing, So Far

An experiment designed to detect evidence of so-far theoretical “dark matter” has ended its first phase with nothing detected, but scientists remain hopeful:

The former Homestake Gold Mine in Lead, S.D., has a hallowed place in the history of physics as a spot where nothing happens.

It was there, in the 1970s, that Raymond Davis Jr. attempted to catch neutrinos, spooky subatomic particles emitted by the sun, in a vat of cleaning fluid a mile underground and for a long time came up empty. For revolutionizing the study of those particles, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002.

On Wednesday, an international team of physicists based in the same cavern of the former mine announced a new milestone of frustration, but also hope — this time in the search for dark matter, the mysterious, invisible ingredient that astronomers say makes up a quarter of the cosmos.

In the first three months of running the biggest, most sensitive dark matter detector yet — a vat of 368 kilograms of liquid xenon cooled to minus 150 degrees Fahrenheit — the researchers said they had not seen a trace of the clouds of particles that theorists say should be wafting through space, the galaxy, the Earth and, of course, ourselves, knocking out at least one controversial class of dark matter candidates.

But the experiment has just begun and will run for all of next year. The detector, already twice as sensitive as the next best one, will gain another factor of sensitivity in the coming run.

“Just because we don’t see anything in the first run doesn’t mean we won’t see anything in the second,” said Richard Gaitskell, a professor of physics at Brown University and a spokesman for an international collaboration that operates the experiment known as LUX, for the Large Underground Xenon dark matter experiment.

As has become de rigueur for such occasions, the scientists took pride and hope in how clearly they did not see anything. “In 25 years of searching, this is the cleanest signal I’ve ever seen,” Dr. Gaitskell said in an interview.

That meant, the scientists said, that their detector was working so well that they would easily see a dark matter particle if and when it decided to drop by.

The alternative, of course, is that the dark matter hypothesis is wrong, or that scientists are looking in the wrong place to determine the source of the gravitational forces holding galaxies together.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. al-Ameda says:

    Very interesting stuff.

    For a few years I worked as a contracts and grants analyst in support of the University of California’s Astrophysics and Particle Astrophysics departments, and I can say that apart from the scientists and their research fellows very few people (i.e., the public) really understand this science and the implications therein. I have a black sweatshirt from the CfPA that has a picture of particle dispersion with a caption that reads, “If it’s not dark, it doesn’t matter.”

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Their mistake was putting it inside Ted Cruz’s head… Oh, wait a minute, I see they put it into a played out S Dakota mine. Not much difference.@al-Ameda:

    “If it’s not dark, it doesn’t matter.”

    I’ve seen that one and been wanting to get it.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    Sort of like the question as to whether magnetic monopoles exist….

    One of my friends worked on pinning down the differences in mass between the different neutrinos. Talk about a non-interacting particle!

    Dark matter may just not interact with us even less than we originally thought it did.

    Or maybe we’re going to have to go to a different theory–gravity ‘branes?

  4. C. Clavin says:

    An experiment designed to detect evidence of so-far theoretical “dark matter” has ended its first phase with nothing detected

    Clearly, it’s Obama’s fault. If you can’t fix the Health Care system…you can’t hope to find Dark Matter.

  5. CB says:

    Dark Matter Experiment Detects Nothing, So Far

    Then turn on a light, dummies.

  6. Anderson says:

    Well, if a giant disembodied hand appears out of nowhere & smashes the apparatus to dust, we’ll know (1) we were on the right track and (2) we had best think about something else instead.

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    I have a degree in physics but I must admit the field looks more like religion at times than it does science. Dark matter is more like a constant used to explain things we can’t otherwise explain. And then there is the “string theory” – little more than mental games.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    @ Ron….
    Just try to imagine what most Physicists thought in 1905 when Al posited Special Relativity and blew away Mr. Newton.

  9. stonetools says:

    Forget about dark matter… Dudes, where’s my warp drive?

  10. Matt says:

    @Ron Beasley: Yeah dark matter seems to be a depository for shit we can’t explain with our current math.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    1905? I STILL can’t wrap my head around what Einstein came up with. And all from accepting the results of an experiment as reality (Michelson – Morely). So basically he accepted the results of careful measurements by the scientists who spend their lives measuring those types of things. I admit I can’t wrap my head around it but I recognize that the people who dedicate their lives to it have largely reached agreement about those results, after much debate and double-checking. Of course there are a very few in the field that don’t accept the consensus, and probably many more whose degrees are in different fields. But rational people understand that there are always going to be a few that have difficulty accepting things that disagree with their world view.

    Or perhaps those few doubters are right and global climate change, I mean, the transistor is impossible after all?

  12. Jeremy says:

    Not the Onion?