Beneath the Black Hills of South Dakota, scientists at the Sanford Underground Research Facility are using a device called a Large Underground Xenon (LUX) detector to hunt for particles of dark matter, the mysterious substance that's believed to account for most of the matter in the universe. Inside the massive device, which contains a third of a ton of liquid xenon inside a titanium vessel, an array of sensitive light detectors wait for the moment when a dark matter particle will collide with a xenon atom and emit a tiny flash of light.
In hopes of capturing the faint signal, LUX has been placed under a mile-thick layer of rock, which will help shield it from cosmic rays and other radiation that might interfere with the signal.
So far, LUX hasn't yet detected dark matter. But with a new set of calibration techniques that improve the detector's sensitivity, researchers hope to soon, finally, spot dark matter. "It is vital that we continue to push the capacity of our detector," says Brown University physics professor Rick Gaitskell in a press release.