What Is Dark Matter? Scientists May Be on Cusp of Finally Detecting Elusive Material

Dark matter is one of the biggest mysteries of physics, with the majority of experts agreeing that it likely exists, though they have no concrete proof. Now, U.S. scientists plan to embark on a monumental experiment in an effort to find elusive dark matter particles.

The project is titled the SuperCDMS SNOLAB experiment, and is funded by the U.S Department of Energy. The experiment will take place at a lab in Canada located 6,800 feet underground inside of a nickel mine near the city of Sudbury. The aim of the project is to find evidence for the existence of a type of dark matter particle called weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs for short.

Scientists believe visible matter accounts for only about 5 percent of all matter in the universe, NASA reported. The rest of the matter is something called dark matter. However, this theory, though widely accepted, remains just that—a theory. We haven't found any dark matter, despite scientists' belief that it played a key role in the formation of galaxies.

Dark matter is incredibly difficult to detect because it does not emit light or energy and cannot be directly observed, Space.com reported. One popular theory is that dark matter is made up of WIMPs. Scientists believe that these particles could have 10 to 100 times the mass of a proton, a type of molecule that makes up regular matter.

If they exist, WIMPs have weak interaction with normal matter, making them hard to find. These hypothetical particles would be able to pass through regular matter like ghosts, but every so often may collide with an atom of regular matter, causing a reaction that scientists can note. However, this has not been observed, at least not yet.

The SuperCDMS SNOLAB experiment hopes to change this by measuring the collisions of atoms in silicon and germanium crystals. In the experiments, the crystals will be supercooled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, a condition they believe will induce this desired collision. These crystals will be housed inside of four detector towers, each containing six crystals. The hope is that the scientists will be able to track and record "fingerprints" left by dark matter molecules through this experiment, Phys Org reported.

The experiment now has approved funding and will begin operations in the early 2020s in the hopes of bringing science closer to uncovering the secrets of dark matter.