December 31, 2015
After the satellite’s launch on December 17, Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) has sent first data to stations on Earth. DAMPE is China’s first effort in search for elusive dark matter and particles it’s made of. Also called “Wukong”, the satellite will look for evidence of annihilation of dark matter, which will in theory result in high-energy photons and electrons.
Dark matter makes up almost 85% of the matter in our Universe. Its indirect effects can be observed when studying rotations of galaxies and we also have a detailed map of it. Yet, direct observation of its constituent particles - Weak Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) - has eluded scientists thus far.
This first transmission of data from DAMPE shows that systems are working properly and after two months of instruments calibration, scientific observations will start in February 2016. The satellite is in sun-synchronous orbit some 500 kilometres from Earth.
The detector on DAMPE will observe the incoming direction, electric charge and energy of high-energy photons and electrons, as well as gamma rays and cosmic rays. These are expected byproducts of the annihilation of WIMPs.
"We are, of course, confident that DAMPE will contribute to the dark matter search," says Philipp Azzarello, at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. He collaborated on the design of DAMPE’s detector.
DAMPE has also been dubbed “Wukong”, after the Monkey King character in Chinese novel Journey to the West. It was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert, China on December 17.
The mission will last for three years, but scientists are hopeful it could last five. DAMPE was built by the Chinese Academy of Sciences with collaboration from Chinese National Space Science Center, University of Geneva and Italy’s Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare.