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'Monkey King' Makes China World Leader in Dark Matter Detection

Dec 01, 2017     Email"> PrintText Size

China's dark matter detection satellite, "Wukong" (Monkey King), has demonstrated it's the most powerful space probe for high-energy cosmic rays.

It has the highest energy resolution and particle identification ability, perfect for searching for traces of the annihilation or decay of dark matter particles, scientists say.

The initial detection results were published in the latest issue of the academic journal, Nature.

Wukong, or the Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE), was launched in December 2015. It is helping scientists lift the "cloak of invisibility" from dark matter.

"DAPME has opened a new window to observe the high-energy universe, showing new physical phenomena beyond our current understanding," said Chang Jin, chief scientist of DAMPE and vice director of the Purple Mountain Observatory under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The 1.9-tonne satellite uses a creative detection technology and method independently developed by Chinese scientists, but costs only one seventh of NASA's Fermi Space Telescope and a twentieth of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02), a state-of-the-art particle physics detector operating on the International Space Station (ISS).

WUKONG'S STRENGTH 

In an orbit about 500 kilometers above the Earth, DAMPE has scanned the entire sky four times and captured more than 3.5 billion high-energy cosmic ray particles, said Chang.

Japanese scientists put the CALorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET) on the ISS four months before the launch of DAMPE with a similar goal. But DAMPE has collected almost five times more data than CALET.

The number of high-energy electrons and positrons measured by DAMPE is more than five times that of AMS-02, sent to the ISS in 2011, according to Chinese scientists.

This shows China is a world leader in detecting dark matter in space.

Scientists at the Purple Mountain Observatory used their own method to analyze the data and drew a gamma ray chart of the sky only a month after DAMPE went into orbit.

Many scientists were so excited at seeing the chart that they wept at the perfect performance of the satellite. If any small device had failed, it would have been impossible.

SOPHISTICATED INSTRUMENT 

Smaller than an ordinary satellite, DAMPE is about a cubic meter or the size of a desk. It has the widest energy range coverage and highest energy resolution of any dark matter probe currently in space.

It has 10 times the energy observation range of AMS-02, and four times the energy resolution of similar detectors.

DAMPE's payload has four parts: a plastic scintillator array detector; a silicon array detector; a BGO calorimeter; and a neutron detector.

They work together to measure high-energy electrons and gamma rays, which might lead to possible traces of dark matter particle annihilation or decay and help reveal the physical details and space distribution of dark matter.

The core payload, the BGO calorimeter, contains more than 300 world's longest BGO crystals, which are 60 centimeters long. The crystals enhance the ability to identify particles. For instance, it can distinguish an electron from 50,000 protons.

A glance inside DAMPE would reveal thickly dotted wires, more complicated than those of the Beijing spectrometer, a large particle detector on the Beijing Electron Positron Collider. 

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(Editor: LIU Jia)

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