Dark matter experiment finds no evidence of axions

Physicists from MIT and elsewhere have performed the first run of a new experiment to detect axions—hypothetical particles that are predicted to be among the lightest particles in the universe. If they exist, axions would be virtually invisible, yet inescapable; they could make up nearly 85 percent of the mass of the universe, in the form of dark matter.

Axions are particularly unusual in that they are expected to modify the rules of electricity and magnetism at a minute level. In a paper published today in Physical Review Letters, the MIT-led team reports that in the first month of observations the experiment detected no sign of axions within the mass range of 0.31 to 8.3 nanoelectronvolts. This means that axions within this mass range, which is equivalent to about one-quintillionth the mass of a proton, either don’t exist or they have an even smaller effect on electricity and magnetism than previously thought.

“This is the first time anyone has directly looked at this axion space,” says Lindley Winslow, principal investigator of the experiment and the Jerrold R. Zacharias Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics at MIT. “We’re excited that we can now say, ‘We have a way to look here, and we know how to do better!'”

[Read More]