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ISS NASA Space Science

Space Station Becomes Dark Matter Hunter 40

Posted by Soulskill
from the stealthily-stalking-its-prey dept.
CWmike writes "With a new $2 billion device successfully installed Thursday, the International Space Station has become a dark matter hunter. Two robotic arms worked in tandem to lift the 15,251-pound instrument, called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, out of space shuttle Endeavour's payload bay and then attached it to the backbone of the space station. The instrument will orbit the Earth, sifting through cosmic particles and providing data that it is hoped will help find the answers to fundamental questions of physics related to antimatter and dark matter."
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Space Station Becomes Dark Matter Hunter

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  • A new reality show: Aldebaron: Dark Matter Hunter.

  • I know we have done dark matter tests in deep mines, and we also test with super colliders. But this is just a box that sits there right? What's the advantage of this over one in a mine that justifies the cost, which I'm sure is much more than an earth based solution. It seems to me that dark matter, which doesn't directly interact with matter anyways, would be more suitable in the deep mines away from space/solar radiation, not sitting directly out in it.

    • by Ruie (30480) on Friday May 20, 2011 @04:28PM (#36195406) Homepage
      The big advantage of AMS [wikipedia.org] is that it sits above the atmosphere and can observe high-energy cosmic rays that never reach Earth surface.

      The original plans called for a cryogenic magnet. It is interesting to note that they have gotten to the point where the system estimated lifetime would be 3 years, but swapped it for a permanent magnet version in the end.

      I imagine this was quite challenging as loss of cooling/superconductivity would result in an explosion - not a good thing to have. And that loss can simply result from a high-energy cosmic ray striking a tiny superconducting wire. Somehow they found a way around this..

      • by sconeu (64226)

        I imagine this was quite challenging as loss of cooling/superconductivity would result in an explosion

        Sounds rather like this [imdb.com].

    • It's probably a much better return on investment than dropping a few dozen bombs over the Libyan desert.
      • by IrquiM (471313)
        That's bull! We (Norway) made 10 times the amount of money that we spent on the bombs we dropped - Go higher oil prices!
    • by radtea (464814) on Friday May 20, 2011 @04:43PM (#36195566)

      What's the advantage of this over one in a mine that justifies the cost

      Primary cosmic rays are much simpler animals than secondary cosmic rays. Primary cosmic rays are almost 100% protons, which almost never reach the surface of the Earth because they interact with the atmosphere and create cosmic ray "showers" that are rich and complex, full of muons and gamma rays and prolific in neutron production as well. Even fairly deep underground dealing with these backgrounds is a complicated process.

      Having only primary cosmic rays to deal with makes life somewhat easier. There may also be dark matter signals that are too low energy to penetrate the Earth's atmosphere--that is, weak signals in the low-energy cosmic ray background due to dark matter collisions or decays integrated over a very large volume.

      The ideal place to do this kind of work is on the Moon: because it has no atmosphere, pions produced by cosmic ray protons will come to a halt before they decay, so there are only low-energy muons produced. Thus, a couple of metres of rock on the Moon will give you shielding as good as a much thicker layer on Earth.

  • by demonbug (309515) on Friday May 20, 2011 @04:18PM (#36195280) Journal

    From the wikipedia article [wikipedia.org]:

    In 1999, after the successful flight of AMS-01, the total cost of the AMS program was estimated to be $33 million, with AMS-02 planned for flight to the ISS in 2003. After the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, and after a number of technical difficulties with the construction of AMS-02, the cost of the program ballooned to an estimated $1.5 billion.

    So... the cost ballooned from $33 million to $1.5 billion? That has to be one of the biggest cost overruns in history. Not to say that it won't perform valuable observations; I just find it amazing that initial estimates were so wildly off, and yet it still got built and launched.

    • by Ruie (30480)
      It got built a long time ago, it was just waiting for the promised shuttle launch.
    • by arcite (661011)
      If we harness the power of dark matter we will be kings of the universe. Can you really put a price on that?
    • by vuo (156163)
      I think $33 million was the cost of the prototype AMS-01, not the full-scale AMS-02. Wikipedia is NOT helpful this time, there's just a dead link to a secondary source. Second, AMS-02 had to be redesigned and was also postponed.
  • That's how much it weighed in space?!?

    • No no... Re-read it:

      "... a new $2 billion device ... Two robotic arms worked in tandem to lift the 15,251-pound instrument,"

      They're delivering science and wall-street news all at once. Translation:

      New Space Station attachment deployed.
      Also, the US dollar has attained an all-time low of 131138.94 to one vs the British pound.

      You should know that both NASA and the US Military use SI units; The only ones left using the crappy empirical units are the general public...

      FTWA [wikipedia.org]

      The [SI] system has been nearly globally adopted. Three principal exceptions are Myanmar (Burma), Liberia, and the United States.

      This is clearly a ploy to oppress the common folk with antiquated and difficult to use measures.

  • Sounds more like a gatherer than a 'hunter'
  • It's $4 Billion.
  • I don't care how much it costs. The investment is small compared to the knowledge gained and future return on investment.
  • This is the only device in the world, that can measure cosmic rays before they enter the atmosphere. Measuring the primary protons and nucleii from cosmic rays, before they break up in showers of secondary particles. I doubt actually though that it will measure dark matter, as dark matter is neutral and won't interact with the magnetic fields in the AMS.

    ---

    Space Science [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

    • As far as I understand, they don't want to measure dark matter directly, but rather anomalous peaks in the energy spectra of the directly detected cosmic rays that are predicted by certain theories about dark matter, in particular, effects of neutralino-neutralion collisions, that would result in detectable particles at certain energies.
  • Just out of curiousity, is there a good reason that this is perched on the International Space Station rather than just being it's own satellite? Does it need maintenance or something like that?

    • I haven't read the engineering summary on the AMS-02, but off the top of my head, there are many benefits of having it on the ISS:

      1) Crew access to it in case anything goes wrong (i.e. for repairs or modifications)
      Crew continually rotate through the ISS and could potentially go on a spacewalk to investigate / repair anything mechanically wrong with the module. If it were on a different orbital plane, we won't have a crew vehicle (read: space shuttle) capable of getting to it now that the space shuttle i

    • by tyrione (134248)

      Just out of curiousity, is there a good reason that this is perched on the International Space Station rather than just being it's own satellite? Does it need maintenance or something like that?

      Future expansion is assured with a Space Station.

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