By Jon Cartwright
The debate as to whether the DAMA/LIBRA team has detected dark matter, as it claimed in April, will no doubt persist until fresh data can say either way. But in the meantime, Robert Foot, a physicist from the University of Melbourne, suggests an alternative interpretation: “mirror matter”.
I’ll take a step back for a moment in case you aren’t familiar with the story. (Alternatively, you can see Physics World’s feature.) DAMA/LIBRA is an underground experiment based at the Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy. It looks for dark-matter particles known as WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles) — a class favoured by theorists for the mysterious substance — by monitoring for flashes that occur when the particles collide with nuclei in 250 kg of sodium-iodide detectors. The idea is that the frequency of flashes should modulate over the year as the Earth changes its speed through our galaxy’s “halo” of dark matter: in June, when the Earth’s orbit takes us faster through the halo, one would expect to see more flashes; in December, when we are moving slower, one would expect to see fewer.