Sending an atomic clock onboard a spacecraft to fly close to the sun might be the trick to uncovering the nature of dark matter, suggests a new study published in Nature Astronomy.
Dark matter makes up more than 80% of the mass in the universe, which we know because we can see its effects on galaxies and stars—but so far, no one has been able to directly detect it, despite decades of experimental efforts.
A group of scientists has proposed a new way to look for this mysterious dark matter, using the technology known as atomic clocks.
Atomic clocks, which tell time by measuring the rapid oscillations of atoms, are already at work in space, enabling the Global Positioning System (GPS). These clocks are so precise that they will not lose even a second of time in billions of years. This caught the attention of researchers, who thought they might be able to use this unique precision to detect dark matter.
"This is a beautiful synergy between particle theorists and a quantum expert, and we have been in contact with NASA solar probe researchers to realize this proposal," said lead author Yu-Dai Tsai. "There are many new exciting directions in the intersection of all these fields."
The study, published Dec. 5, was led by Tsai, who initiated the project at the University of Chicago and Fermilab and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Irvine, along with collaborators University of Delaware physicist Marianna Safronova and Joshua Eby of the University of Tokyo and the Kavli Institute for the Physics and the Mathematics of the Universe.
Constants of nature
“Dark matter is one of the most important remaining mysteries in astronomy and cosmology, given its unknown and elusive nature,” explained Tsai. “If we could find dark matter and understand its properties, we can understand the evolution of our universe.”