Scientists reveal plans for largest dark matter detector in the world

While the idea of dark matter has long fascinated scientists and amateur astronomers alike, no one has ever come close to understanding it, much less detecting and containing it. However, an international physics collaboration has planned an experiment to change that.

The second generation Large Underground Xenon experiment, called the LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ), is being led by University of California, Santa Barbara physicists.

The team will construct the largest dark matter detector in the world at a site a below ground in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Since it was first hypothesized in 1932, dark matter has eluded characterisation. It makes up most of the matter in the universe, is void of light and affects the gravity of galaxies, but beyond that little else is known.

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Scientists have theorized that dark matter is comprised of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPS). To detect dark matter, scientists will focus on finding WIMPS.

The LZ detector will contain seven tonnes of active liquid xenon, a chemical element naturally occurring in small amounts in Earth’s atmosphere.

When WIMPS collide with xenon atoms, they produce photons (light) and electrons, and these signals are precisely mapped by measuring their brightness.

However, these WIMP collisions do not happen frequently. Scientists hope that with this new, highly sensitive technology they will be able to record up to five events in three years.

“Our dream would be after about a year’s worth of data that there would be a signal of dark matter,” said UC Santa Barbara physics professor Harry Nelson, the leader of the LZ collaboration. “That’s how rare a dark matter event is.”

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The assembly of the detector is no easy task, either. In addition to the liquid xenon, the outer part will contain 27 tonnes of scintillator liquid, a type of oil that becomes illuminated in the presence of neutrons and gamma rays. The detector will then be contained within a tank of water.

The experiment must be conducted deep underground to keep the detectors from exposure to cosmic rays, but radiation from the decay of elements in the detectors’ surroundings can still affect the accuracy of the results. The LZ detector will be equipped with extra layers of particle detection outside the liquid xenon to ensure reliability.

The LZ project will be funded by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. Equipment building could begin in 2015, based on when the funding becomes available, with experiment operations beginning in 2018.

Perhaps by LZ’s conclusion, scientists will have shed some light on the seemingly unsolvable mystery of dark matter.


First body image courtesy of Matthew Kapust, Sanford Lab, second body image courtesy of the UC Santa Barbara Current.


DJI’s First Drone Arena in Tokyo to Open This Saturday

Consumer drone giant DJI will open its first Japanese drone arena in the city of Tokyo this Saturday, providing a space for both hardened professionals and curious newcomers to hone their flying skills.

The arena, which covers an area of 535 square metres, will not only include a large flying area complete with obstacles, but also offer a store where visitors can purchase the latest DJI drones and a technical support area where drone owners can get help with quadcopter issues.

The hope is that the arena will allow those who are curious about the technology but currently lack the space to try it out to get involved.

“As interest around our aerial technology continues to grow, the DJI Arena concept is a new way for us to engage not just hobbyists but also those considering this technology for their work or just for the thrill of flying,” said Moon Tae-Hyun, DJI’s director of brand management and operations.

“Having the opportunity to get behind the remote controller and trying out the technology first hand can enrich the customer experience. When people understand how it works or how easy it is to fly, they will discover what this technology can do for them and see a whole new world of possibilities.”

Images courtesy of DJI

In addition to its general sessions, which will allow members of the public to drop by and try their hand at flying drones, the arena will also offer private hire, including corporate events. For some companies, then, drone flying could become the new golf.

There will also be regular events, allowing pros to compete against one another, and drone training, in the form of DJI’s New Pilot Experience Program, for newcomers.

The arena has been launched in partnership with Japan Circuit, a developer of connected technologies, including drones.

“We are extremely excited to partner with DJI to launch the first DJI Arena in Japan,” said Tetsuhiro Sakai, CEO of Japan Circuit.

“Whether you are a skilled drone pilot or someone looking for their first drone, we welcome everyone to come and learn, experience it for themselves, and have fun. The new DJI Arena will not only serve as a gathering place for drone enthusiasts but also help us reach new customers and anyone interested in learning about this incredible technology.”

The arena is the second of its kind to be launched by DJI, with the first located in Yongin, South Korea, and detailed in the video above. .

Having opened in 2016, the area has attracted visitors from around the world, demonstrating serious demand for this type of entertainment space.

If the Tokyo launch goes well, it’s likely DJI will look at rolling out its arena concept to other cities, perhaps even bringing the model to the US and Europe.

For now, however, those who are interested can book time at the Tokyo arena here.

Commercial Human Spaceflight Advances Prompt Calls for Space Safety Institute

Commercial human spaceflight has been a long-held dream, but now it is finally poised to become a reality. Companies including Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are inching ever closer to taking private citizens into space, and there are serious plans for spaceports in several parts of the world, including Hawaii, the US, and Scotland, the UK.

But while the industry is advancing, the legal side of this fledgling commercial space industry remains underdeveloped, leading to calls for the development of an organisation to establish a framework for the safe operation of spaceports for human commercial spaceflights.

Writing in the journal New Space, Mclee Kerolle, from the United States International Institute of Space Law in Paris, France, has proposed the establishment of a Space Safety Institute recognised by the US congress and the United Nations.

This institute would “develop, enforce and adopt standards of excellence”, allowing the industry to develop while protecting it from liability and insurance risks.

“Currently, no international regulatory body exists to regulate the operation of spaceports,” he wrote. “This is unfortunate because while the advent of commercial human spaceflight industry is imminent, a majority of the focus from the legal community will be on regulating spaceflights and space access vehicles.

“However, the regulation of spaceports should be viewed in the same light as the rest of the commercial human spaceflight industry.”

The article focuses particularly on the establishment of a spaceport at the Kona International Airport in Keahole, Hawaii. At present, the spaceport’s development is subject to regulation by the Federal Aviation Authority, however there are aspects to spaceport development that do not apply to conventional aviation operations.

A spacesuit design for commercial flights developed by SpaceX. Featured image: SpaceX’s proposed spaceport for its conceptual interplanetary transport system. All images courtesy of SpaceX

The institute would be designed to first and foremost ensure safety within the industry, so it would be important, according to Kerolle, to ensure it was made up of individuals with expertise in the field, rather than bureaucrats.

“To make sure that this flexibility is inherent in a Space Safety Institute, the organization should be composed of individuals within the industry as opposed to government officials who are not familiar with the commercial human spaceflight industry,” he wrote.

“As a result, this should protect the commercial human spaceflight industry to some liability exposure, as well as promote growth in the industry to ensure the industry’s survival.”