An optical atomic clock has the potential to prove the existence of dark matter with utmost precision. How do we know this? Well, that’s what a paper submitted by researchers from the University of Colorado, to the journal Physical Review Letters, says at least. So how did they do it? Are we closer to proving the existence of dark matter now?
Crux of the Matter
What Is An Optical Clock?
All clocks are based on stable oscillators, from a grandfather clock that uses pendulum oscillators, or a sundial clock, that relies on the steady rotation of the earth. In an optical clock, the steady oscillator is the laser.
How Does This Clock Tick?
The laser in an optical clock is regulated using the quantum oscillations of atoms, making them the most precise clocks in existence till date. These clocks tick approximately a quadrillion (one million billion) times per second.
How Accurate Is It?
These optical clocks are so accurate, that scientists estimate 20 billion years, longer than the known age of the Universe (13.77 billion years since big bang), before it leads or lags by even a second.
Where Can It Be Used?
To build a gravitational wave telescope. Gravitational waves passing through a region of space, change the frequency of light waves slightly, traveling through the same region. If light is sent from an optical clock on one satellite to another one on a nearby satellite, the clocks will detect this change in light frequency and sense the effect of the gravitational wave.
What Is Dark Matter?
Accounting for 85% of the matter in the universe, dark matter is composed of particles that don’t absorb, reflect, or emit light. Thus, they cannot be detected by observing electromagnetic radiation.
So Can Optical Clock Detect Dark Matter Too?
Yes. The existence of dark matter is indirectly evident from the gravitational effects it has on the cosmological scale, via galaxies and stars. Another way is by observing the oscillation of fundamental physics constants like α.
History Of Finding Dark Matter
Previous works involved large-scale studies, such as those conducted at the CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator and via the god particle, Higgs boson.
What Is The New Research About?
The University of Colorado team lead by Jun Ye used a state of the art kit – strontium optical clock, a hydrogen maser, and its own cryogenic cavity – to try and capture possible interactions between dark matter from quantum physics and particles from the standard model of physics.
The optical clock first observed variations in alpha (α). Then it compared the frequency of the strontium atoms in the clock to those in the silicon cavity, which allows electromagnetic waves to bounce inside its chambers, which creates a standing wave. Furthermore, this data was also compared to the frequency of a hydrogen maser, a frequency standard using a hydrogen atom as reference.
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