In a groundbreaking pursuit to unravel the universe’s greatest enigmas, scientists have turned to atomic clocks as a novel tool to probe the elusive nature of dark matter. This innovative project, a collaboration between the University of Sussex and the National Physical Laboratory in the U.K., aims to detect previously unknown ultra-light particles, which might hold the key to understanding the mysterious substance that constitutes an estimated 85% of all matter in the universe. Dark matter, while invisible to us as it does not interact with light or electromagnetic radiation, exerts a profound influence on gravity and the formation of galaxies.
The use of atomic clocks in this endeavor is a testament to the intersection of cosmology, astrophysics, and the precise science of timekeeping. These clocks, known for their incredible precision, may reveal subtle variations in the rate at which time ticks – a potential indication of "new physics" beyond the scope of the Standard Model of particle physics. This new physics, according to Xavier Calmet, project leader and a professor of physics at the University of Sussex, could provide the missing piece in our understanding of dark matter, a phenomenon that currently resides outside the explanatory power of the Standard Model.
Atomic Clocks: The New Frontier in Unlocking Universe’s Mysteries
A novel project involving atomic clocks is taking the exploration of the universe’s greatest enigmas, including the nature of dark matter, into a new realm. In a collaboration between the University of Sussex and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the U.K., scientists are using the ticks of these extraordinarily accurate clocks to search for previously unidentified ultra-light particles, potentially associated with dark matter.
Navigating the Dark Matter Mystery
Dark matter, a mystery substance estimated to constitute about 85% of all matter in the universe, does not interact with light or electromagnetic radiation. This makes it virtually invisible to us, and its presence can only be inferred by its gravitational effects. This project seeks to illuminate the nature of dark matter and bring it closer to our understanding.
According to Xavier Calmet, project leader and a professor of physics at the University of Sussex, our current understanding of the universe is governed by the laws of physics, as defined by general relativity and the Standard Model of particle physics. However, dark matter does not fit within these existing models and hence necessitates ‘new physics’.
Using Atomic Clocks to Spot ‘New Physics’
The crux of the project lies in the premise that any physics beyond the Standard Model would result in minute changes in atomic energy levels. This, in turn, would affect the rate at which clocks tick. Only a device as precise as an atomic clock could spot these minuscule variations.
Atomic clocks measure time using atoms with two potential energy states. They establish a higher energy state using microwave energy and then record the consistent rate at which these atoms vibrate between states to measure time precisely. If dark matter is indeed composed of ultra-light particles that interact weakly with regular matter, atomic clocks could detect these interactions and thus potentially discover ultra-light dark matter.
Unlocking New Avenues in Physics
Apart from probing dark matter, this technique could also be deployed to investigate another perplexing aspect of the universe – dark energy, the unknown force driving the accelerating expansion of space. While dark energy is most likely explained by the cosmological constant, there exists a small possibility that it could also be linked to an ultra-light particle.
While the project has not discovered new physics at this stage, it has developed a new theoretical framework to probe generic new physics with clocks. "We are creating a new field at the interface of atomic, molecular, and optical physics and traditional particle physics. These are exciting results!" Calmet concluded.
The use of atomic clocks in probing the universe’s mysteries signifies a promising frontier in astrophysics and cosmology. This innovative approach signifies the potential of integrating traditional physics with more advanced technological mechanisms to unravel the universe’s secrets. The possibility of uncovering ‘new physics’ is undoubtedly an exciting prospect and could redefine our understanding of dark matter and dark energy.