CERN approves FASER experiment to search for dark matter particles

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A 3D picture of the planned FASER detector as seen in the TI12 tunnel. Image: FASER/CERN
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A 3D picture of the planned FASER detector as seen in the TI12 tunnel. Image: FASER/CERN

The detector is expected to collect experiment data from 2021 to 2023

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) has given the green light for a new experiment, the Forward Search Experiment (FASER), which will search for particles associated with dark matter.

CERN is Europe's physics lab - home to the world's largest particle accelerator, called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). This gigantic laboratory is basically a 27-kilometre-long tunnel straddling the French-Swiss border. It enables scientists to test the predictions of multiple theories of particle physics.

Dark matter has never been observed directly... Its presence can be felt only through its gravitational pull on other objects in the universe

The FASER experiment, funded by a grant of $2 million from the Simons Foundation and the Heising-Simons Foundation, will complement the current physics programme at CERN, broadening its discovery potential to new particles at LHC. The experiment will look for new light and weakly interacting particles, including 'dark photons', which are associated with dark matter and neutralinos.

Dark matter is a hypothetical matter, which is believed to comprise about 27 per cent of the universe. The ordinary matter that includes planets, stars, dust, gases, and all other visible matter, accounts for just five per cent of the universe. The rest of the 68 per cent is thought to be made up of 'dark energy'.

Dark matter has never been observed directly by scientists as it doesn't interact with electromagnetic force. Its presence can be felt only through its gravitational pull on other objects in the universe.

Dark matter is a hypothetical matter, which is believed to comprise about 27 per cent of the universe

New FASER experiment at CERN's accelerator complex has been proposed as part of the Physics Beyond Collider study. The instrument to be used in the experiment is compact, measuring five metres in length and one metre in diameter.

Scientists will place this instrument at a particular point along the 27-kilometre-long loop of the LHC. This point will be about 480 metres away from the six-story instrument, which was used to discover the Higgs boson particle.

Many components of FASER experiment have been borrowed from the ATLAS and LHCb collaborations, which helped in cutting the cost of the experiment by hundreds of times.

The FASER detector is expected to collect experiment data in the period from 2021 to 2023. The research team has plans to install the larger FASER 2 instrument during the period from 2024 to 2026, when the LHC will be shut down for maintenance and upgrading work. Scientists hope they will be able to discover a wider array of mysterious particles using the FASER 2 detector.

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