What can you get with 2 billion dollars? Apparently, you can get equipment that enables you to detect dark matter.


At least, that’s what it looks like according to the initial data coming in from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) onboard the International Space Station. Scientists recently announced that the AMS confirmed a strange antimatter signal coming from space. This signal was first detected back in 2008 using another space-based detector. At the time, scientists worried that the equipment was faulty (mistaking protons for antielectrons). However, the AMS has just confirmed the antimatter signal.


Some scientists remain skeptical, asserting that the findings are not definitive evidence of dark matter. Others argue that the findings aren’t conclusive enough to warrant the 2 billion price tag (fun fact: If we are being really generous, and if we are okay with a few soldiers going hungry, then 2 billion dollars will buy you about 7 days of war in Iraq and Afghanistan). But for now, let’s leave the whole “research funding vs. defense funding debate” to the scientists and politicians.


The main point of contention that some scientists take issue with is that, unfortunately, the AMS cannot detect dark matter directly…but it can detect antimatter (which is exactly what it has done). Theorists propose that antimatter is produced when dark matter particles collide. This means that the antimatter particles are a possible signature of dark matter. In other words, this antimatter signal could be caused by dark matter collisions taking place in the deep recesses of the cosmos. However, such a signal could emerge from other, more mundane sources. For example, a nearby radiation-spewing pulsar could create such a signal. So even though the positron excess appears to be real, it does not conclusively prove that there is dark matter.


Since its installation in 2011, AMS has detected over 30 billion cosmic rays. Ultimately, it measures the ratio of antielectrons (or positrons) to the total number of electrons and positrons. AMS scientists discovered that the positron fraction increases from roughly 5% to more than 15%, a clear antimatter signal which could lead to some very interesting findings. Unfortunately, that’s all we’ll know until more data comes in.


Also interesting to note that a few months ago, FERMI learned that antimatter is produced during terrestrial lightning storms!

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