The quiet search for dark matter deep underground

A mile below ground, a sign hangs over the door to the LUX dark matter experiment telling visitors how far to Wall Drug—in both dimensions.

A mile below ground, a sign hangs over the door to the LUX dark matter experiment telling visitors how far to Wall Drug—in both dimensions. (credit: Matthew R. Francis)

Update, Sept. 6, 2021: It’s Labor Day Weekend in the US, and even though most of us are continuing to call home “the office,” Ars staff is taking a long weekend to rest and relax. And given we can’t travel like we could during Labor Day Weekends past, we thought we’d revisit one of our favorite trips from the archives. This story on our adventure to the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) dark matter experiment in South Dakota originally ran in July 2014, and it appears unchanged below.

One of the quietest, darkest places in the cosmos isn’t out in the depths of space. It’s at the center of a tank of cold liquid xenon in a gold mine deep under the Black Hills of South Dakota. It needs to be that quiet: any stray particles could confuse the detectors lining the outside of the tank. Those detectors are looking for faint, rare signals, ones that could reveal the presence of dark matter.

The whole assembly—the container of liquid and gaseous xenon, the water tank enveloping that, and all the detectors—is called the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) dark matter experiment. So far, LUX hasn’t found anything, but the days of its operation are just beginning: the detector was installed and started operations just last year.

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