Looking for Dark Matter Under A Mountain

Scientists may finally spot the mysterious substance

A mile beneath Italy’s Gran Sasso mountain lies the DarkSide-50 detector. The three-story cylinder was built to search for our universe’s most mysterious substance: dark matter. “We know it exists in our galaxy and roughly how much there is,” says Princeton physicist Peter Meyers. “What we don’t know is what it is.” The most promising lead is WIMPs–weakly interacting massive particles. If they do exist, these theoretical particles should drift through the walls of DarkSide-50’s three nested tanks and collide with atoms of liquid argon at its core. The argon atoms would then recoil like billiard balls and emit light, providing proof of WIMPs and bringing us closer to figuring out dark matter’s elusive identity.

This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of Popular Science.

Sarah Scoles

Sarah Scolesis a science journalist and the author of the books Making Contact and They Are Already Here, about SETI and UFO culture, and the forthcoming book Mass Defect, a look at the modern-day overlap of nuclear science and weapons. After studying astrophysics and working in radio astronomy, she began writing about the ways science and technology affect and are affected by humans and institutions.