Could a Yorkshire mine help solve the greatest mystery in the universe? British scientists want to build a giant particle detector 900 meters underground to identify the origin of dark matter
Hidden half a mile underground, a Yorkshire mine is now a center of scientific activity.
That’s because it’s home to a bustling research center and a newly created Mars simulation habitat intended to study how humans will survive during future missions to the Red Planet.
But British scientists don’t want their exploration of the solar system to end there.
They also want to help solve the biggest mystery in the universe by building a giant particle detector in the working mine at Boulby to discover the origin of dark matter.
This enigmatic material is thought to make up about 85 percent of the universe, but it has never been directly observed.
Objective: British scientists want to help solve the biggest mystery in the universe by building a giant particle detector in a working mine in Boulby Yorkshire to discover the origin of dark matter.
The mine (pictured) already houses a newly created Mars simulation habitat and research facility intended to study how humans will survive during future missions to the Red Planet.
WHAT IS DARK MATTER?
Dark matter is a hypothetical substance said to make up about 85 percent of the universe.
The enigmatic material is invisible because it does not reflect light and has never been directly observed by scientists.
Astronomers know it’s out there because of its gravitational effects on known matter.
The European Space Agency says: ‘Shine a torch in a completely dark room and you will see only what the torch illuminates.
‘That doesn’t mean the room around you doesn’t exist.
“Similarly, we know dark matter exists, but we’ve never directly observed it.”
The material is thought to be the gravitational “glue” that holds galaxies together.
Calculations show that many galaxies would tear apart rather than rotate if they were not held together by a large amount of dark matter.
Only five percent of the observable universe consists of known matter, such as atoms and subatomic particles.
Astronomers know it’s out there because of its gravitational effects on known matter: they can see that galaxies stick together in clusters when they should be pulled apart.
Most experts believe that the source of this dark matter is particles called Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs).
They got their name because they are thought to react with normal matter, but only rarely, making WIMPs incredibly difficult to detect.
For two decades, scientists have tried, but despite building increasingly sensitive detectors, they have had no luck.
That’s why a global project to build a new particle detector underground is underway, and Yorkshire is among the sites where it could happen.
A mine in South Dakota and Italy’s state-of-the-art underground laboratory 80 miles from Rome are also in the running for the new International Dark Matter Center.
However, the scientists say time is running out for detecting WIMPs because once the detectors reach a certain level of sensitivity, which is what will happen with the next generation of devices, they will start picking up other signals as well.
This is known as ‘neutrino fog’, because it creates confusion as to whether what has been seen is a WIMP or a signal from neutrinos, subatomic particles that are similar to an electron but with no electrical charge and a very small mass.
“We are entering the last chance hall to show that these particles are the cause of dark matter, and we want to make sure Britain is at the center of that work by building the latest generation of these detectors,” said Professor physics professor Chamkaur Ghag from University College London told the Observer.
There are currently scientific sites around the world trying to identify WIMPS, but because time is of the essence, the research groups agreed to put their heads together to select a center to concentrate resources.
Known as the XLZD experiments, scientists here hope Britain will be chosen to host it.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham are already using the Boulby mine to see what it takes to survive and thrive on other planets.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham are also using the Boulby mine to see what it takes to survive and thrive on other planets.
The mine’s Mars simulation, known as the ‘Bio-SPHERE project’, has been launched in a 3,000-meter network of tunnels through 250-million-year-old salt deposits.
The saline conditions and location below the surface provide conditions similar to those experienced in caverns on both the Red Planet and the Moon.
The scientists will be located inside a 9-foot-wide (three-meter-wide) module, specifically designed to test medical procedures used to treat tissue damage.
Polymer-based medicines, hydrogels and various other fluids, which can be used to heal wounds and prevent injuries, will be tested here.
The base will also be used to see if underground houses are key to dodging dangerous deep space radiation and extreme temperatures on other worlds.
HOW A YORKSHIRE MINE COULD HOLD THE KEY TO LIFE ON MARS
It is home to Yorkshire desserts, Marks & Spencer and even Guy Fawkes.
But Yorkshire could also hold the key to life on Mars, with scientists recreating the Red Planet in a mine nearly a mile underground.
The Boulby polyhalite mine near Staithes is being used to see what it takes to survive in space.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham are using one of the UK’s deepest mines to see what it takes to survive and thrive on other planets.
Discovering how to live and performing medical procedures are among some of the experiments to be carried out at the Boulby polyhalite mine near Staithes.
The ‘Bio-SPHERE project’ could even pave the way for underground homes in space, as crews seek to dodge damaging meteor debris and radiation.
Read more here.