Breaking new ground in the search for dark matter
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is renowned for the hunt for and discovery of the Higgs boson, but in the 10 years since the machine collided protons at an energy higher than previously achieved at a particle accelerator, researchers have been using it to try to hunt down an equally exciting particle: the hypothetical particle that may make up an invisible form of matter called dark matter, which is five times more prevalent than ordinary matter and without which there would be no universe as we know it. The LHC dark-matter searches have so far come up empty handed, as have non-collider searches, but the incredible work and skill put by the LHC researchers into finding it has led them to narrow down many of the regions where the particle may lie hidden – necessary milestones on the path to a discovery.
“Before the LHC, the space of possibilities for dark matter was much wider than it is today”, says dark-matter theorist Tim Tait of UC Irvine and theory co-convener of the LHC Dark Matter Working Group. “The LHC has really broken new ground in the search for dark matter in the form of weakly interacting massive particles, by covering a wide array of potential signals predicted by either production of dark matter, or production of the particles mediating its interactions with ordinary matter. All of the observed results have been consistent with models that don’t include dark matter, and give us important information as to what kinds of particles can no longer explain it. The results have both pointed experimentalists in new directions for how to search for dark matter, and prompted theorists to rethink existing ideas for what dark matter could be – and in some cases to come up with new ones.”