- The Xenon100 experiment in Gran Sasso - currently the most sensitive dark matter detection experiment on Earth - is up and running. The results from a short 11 days run in November last year were presented at the WONDER2010 conference a month ago. The signal region where nuclear recoils are supposed to appear is below the blue line. As you can see, bastards really have zero background events. Even this small amount of data allows them to set the limits on the dark matter - nucleon cross section comparable to those obtained by CDMS after many months of running. The experiment is continuously taking data since January and the plan is to run for an entire year. As of today they have roughly 10 times more data on tape, but it's not yet clear when the new chunk will be unblinded and analyzed. Can't wait.
- Xenon100 can take their time because direct competitors are falling like flies. LUX, a US based experiment that relies on practically the same technology, is stranded until at least next year waiting for their underground cavern to be ready. WARP, a similar experiment next door in Gran Sasso but filled with argon rather than xenon as the target, was aborted last year due to an electrical failure. The latest (unconfirmed) rumor is that XMASS - a 1 ton xenon dark matter experiment in Japan - has been downed due to a simple engineering error. New York City psychics whisper in terror about dark ectoplasm currents sourced somewhere in northern Manhattan.
- Back to Gran Sasso. CRESST's presentation at WONDER2010 devoted 1 slide to wild speculations about their latest unpublished results on dark matter detection. CRESST uses CaWO4 crystals as the target using and detect scintillation light and phonons to sort out the signal of dark matter recoiling on the nuclei making the crystal. The cool thing about the experiment is that using the light-to-phonon ratio they can to some extent tell whether a nuclear recoil occurred on tungsten or on oxygen. In the tungsten (blue) band, where weak scale dark matter is expected to show up first, there is almost no events. But in the oxygen band (reddish) there is something weird going on. Of course, most likely this is some sort of background that the collaboration has not pinned down yet. But another possible interpretation is that the dark matter particle is very light so that it bounces off heavy tungsten nuclei but still can give a kick to much lighter oxygen nuclei. Furthermore, the slide mentions that the event rate in the oxygen band displays a hint of annual modulation expected from dark matter scattering. Curiouser and curiouser...
- ...especially if CRESST data are viewed from a somewhat different angle. Juan Collar, apart from being a guest-blogger, has a daytime job at CoGeNT - another dark matter experiment that has recently seen hints of light dark matter particles. A few weeks ago during a workshop in New York Juan flashed the following plot (Content Warning: the plot below makes respectable physicists shout obscenities):
These are the CRESST data from the tungsten band plotted as the differential recoil spectrum. Naively, the spectrum fits the one expected from light dark matter particles of mass approximately 10 GeV, that is the same ballpark that also fits the CoGeNT data!
- The situation could be clarified by the CDMS experiment. Although they finished data-taking, they are sitting on a large amount of data collected by their silicon detectors, of which only a part was analyzed and made public (their most recently published limits are based on data from the germanium detectors). Silicon is a fairly light element (A=28) and therefore it is more suitable than germanium for studying light dark matter. Thus CDMS has the potential to exclude the light dark matter interpretation of the CoGeNT and CRESST signals; unfortunately this does not seems to be their priority right now. CRESST itself should release a full-fledged analysis of their data soon, which should provide us with more solid information. However, CRESST at this point is not a background free experiment. Therefore in the nearest future we should expect a wilderness of mirrors rather than clear-cut answers. In other words, more rumors ahead :-)
Update #2: Just 2 days later Xenon100 gets a smackdown. A new paper by Collar and McKinsey casts doubt whether Xenon100 has any sensitivity to light dark matter particles consistent with the CoGeNT signal. As already hinted, Xenon100's assumptions about the quenching factor at low energies are controversial. Another assumption that is questioned concerns the distribution of the number of photoelectrons near threshold:
...limits depend critically (...) on the assumption of a Poisson tail in the modest number of photoelectrons that would be generated by a light-mass WIMP above detection threshold (...). We question the wisdom of this approach when the mechanisms behind the generation of any significant amount of scintillation are still unknown and may simply be absent at the few keVr level. To put it bluntly, this is the equivalent of expecting something out of nothing.