For decades, scientists have worked on dark matter which comprises 85 percent of the mass in the universe. However, not much had been found until now.
A new study published in Nature Astronomy on December 5 revealed that an atomic clock on-board a spacecraft inside the inner depths of the solar system could search for ultralight dark matter. It has wavelike properties that could affect the operation of the clocks.
Atomic clocks are already in space, enabling Global Positioning Systems (GPS). They tell time by measuring the rapid oscillations of atoms.
University of Delaware physicist Marianna Safronova and collaborators Yu-Dai Tsai of the University of California, Irvine, and Joshua Eby of the University of Tokyo and the Kavli Institute for the Physics and the Mathematics of the Universe want to put these “precision timepieces to work in the quest to find dark matter,” as per a release.
According to the researchers, in a particular region of the solar system, between the orbit of Mercury and the Sun, the density of dark matter is large. This could translate into exceptional sensitivity to the oscillating signals.
“The more dark matter there is around the experiment, the larger these oscillations are, so the local density of dark matter matters a lot when analyzing the signal,” Eby said in a statement.
As per the paper, the work would be done by atomic, nuclear, and molecular clocks that are still under development and are known as “quantum sensors.”
“This was inspired by the Parker Solar Probe,” Safronova said in a statement.
“It showed that you could send a satellite very close to the Sun, sensing new conditions and making discoveries. That is much closer to the Sun than what we are proposing here,” she said.
In 2019, NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock mission showed the best atomic clock in space until now, but Safronova states that various types of clocks based on higher frequencies have been developed in the past 15 years. Such clocks will have very precise orders of magnitude and will not even lose a second of time in billions of years.
“There is a whole range of great things we can do in space,” Safronova said. “We are at the very, very beginning of that.”