Far below the Black Hills of South Dakota, crews are building the world’s deepest underground science lab at a depth equivalent to more than six Empire State buildings — a place uniquely suited to scientists’ quest for mysterious particles known as dark matter.
Scientists, politicians and other officials gathered Monday for a groundbreaking of sorts at a lab 4,850 foot below the surface of an old gold mine that was once the site of Nobel Prize-winning physics research.
The site is ideal for experiments because its location is largely shielded from cosmic rays that could interfere with efforts to prove the existence of dark matter, which is thought to make up nearly a quarter of the mass of the universe.
The deepest reaches of the mine plunge to 8,000 feet below the surface. Some early geology and hydrology experiments are already under way at 4,850 feet. Researchers also hope to build two deeper labs that are still awaiting funding from Congress.
Before the labs are built, crews must also stabilize the tunnels and install new infrastructure. The lab at 4,850 feet is not much to look at yet. A rusty orange film covers the walls, floors, ceilings and debris left behind by miners.
The first dark matter experiment will be the Large Underground Xenon detector experiment — or LUX — a project to detect weakly interacting particles that could give scientists greater insight into the Big Bang explosion believed to have formed the universe.
Shutt, along with Brown University’s Rick Gaitskell and nearly a dozen collaborators will work at the site to search for dark matter, which does not emit detectable light or radiation. But scientists say its presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter.
Scientists believe most of the dark matter in the universe contains no atoms and does not interact with ordinary matter through electromagnetic forces. They are trying to discover exactly what it is, how much exists and what effect it may have on the future of the universe.
Physicists have said that without dark matter, galaxies might never have formed. By learning more about dark matter, they hope to understand better whether the universe is expanding or contracting.
via Work begins on world’s deepest underground lab – Yahoo! News.