CERN points giant magnet at the Sun to look for dark matter particles

Axions don’t show up yet, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.


With the identification of the Higgs boson at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, scientists put the last piece of the Standard Model of physics in place. What they haven’t found is any hint of something beyond the Standard Model. And that hasn’t been for lack of trying. Supersymmetry, the most popular extension to the Standard Model, predicts a large collection of additional particles. We’ve looked for them and, so far, they have not shown up.

But some extensions of the Standard Model don’t predict the sorts of heavy particles that the LHC is designed to identify. Instead, they suggest there’s a very light force-carrying particle called an axion. With the right properties, an axion could solve issues in everything from particle interactions up to the scale of galaxy clusters. But its tiny mass and odd behavior means it won’t be detected in the LHC.

But that doesn’t mean the LHC’s hardware can’t find it. Clever engineers at CERN took magnets originally designed for the LHC, combined them with X-ray focusing technology originally designed for space, and built a device that could spot axions arriving here from the Sun. So far, it has seen no sign of them, which places some strict limits on the properties of these hypothetical particles.

Putting limits on our imagination

Physicists don’t just come up with hypothetical particles for fun. (Well, they might enjoy doing it, but it’s not solely for fun.) They prefer their particles to be what they call “well motivated,” meaning there’s a good reason for proposing them. In the case of axions, that motivation came from quantum chromodynamics, which describes the interactions of quarks and gluons. Axions were proposed to provide a theoretical explanation for why these particles appear to be indifferent to the direction of time (technically called “time-reversal invariance”).

Since then, other types of axions have been proposed, but they all share a critical property: they have mass (although not very much). This makes them possible dark matter candidates, since they should be present in our Universe in very large numbers. (Click to Article)

Giant Sun Eruption Captured in NASA Video

The sun unleashed a monster eruption of super-hot plasma Friday (Nov. 16) in back-to-back solar storms captured on camera by a NASA spacecraft.

The giant sun eruption, called a solar prominence, occurred at 1 a.m. EST (0600 GMT), with another event flaring up four hours later. The prominences was so large, it expanded beyond the camera view of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which captured high-definition video of the solar eruption.

In the video, a colossal loop of glowing red plasma erupts from the lower left of the sun, arcing up and out of frame as it blasts away from the star.

“The red-glowing looped material is plasma, a hot gas made of electrically charged hydrogen and helium,” officials with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which oversees the SDO mission, explained in a description. “The prominence plasma flows along a tangled and twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun’s internal dynamo. An erupting prominence occurs when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing the plasma.”

Friday’s solar eruption does not appear to be aimed at Earth, so will likely have little effect on our planet. But that was not the case earlier this week when a powerful solar flare erupted on Monday (Nov. 12). That flare registered as an M6-class eruption, a moderate but still intense solar event.

On Tuesday and Wednesday (Nov. 13 and 14), space weather conditions sparked a geomagnetic storm that supercharged the Earth’s auroras, creating spectacular northern lights displays for observers at high latitudes.

When aimed directly at Earth, the most powerful solar flares and eruptions can pose a threat to satellites and astronauts in orbit, and also interfere with communication, navigation and power systems on the ground.

The sun is currently in the middle of an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The current cycle is called Solar Cycle 24 and is expected to peak in 2013.

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