The XENON experiment is a 3500kg liquid xenon detector to search for the elusive Dark Matter. Have a look at the description of our detection principle, our recent publications, some pictures, or materials for press contacts. Feel free to contact us with your questions.
XENON1T may have been designed to search for dark matter, but it turns out that we can do a lot more with it. As the amount of xenon increases and backgrounds go down, the experiment starts to check all the boxes for a neutrino detector and becomes sensitive to rare physics processes, such as double -decays. Two XENON collaboration posters at Neutrino 2018 in the beginning of June showcased the prospects for the detection of two such decays.
First, there is neutrinoless double -decay of the xenon isotope Xe-136. Here, two neutrons in the atomic nucleus are simultaneously converted into two protons. In order to conserve the total charge that increased by +2 with the protons two electrons with the charge -2 have to be emitted. In the standard model one would also need two anti-electron neutrinos to conserve lepton number. But this process goes beyond the standard model of particle physics. Its detection would imply that neutrinos are their own anti-particles and the violation of lepton number could be the key to understanding why the universe is dominated by matter compared to anti-matter today. Chiara Capelli, a PhD student from the Zürich XENON group, presented a poster where she checked the sensitivity of current and future xenon detectors for neutrinoless double -decay. In the years to come these detectors will complement existing experiments.
A second poster by Alexander Fieguth and Christian Wittweg from the Münster group outlined an ongoing search for the double electron capture of Xe-124. This decay is the other way round: Two neutrons are made from protons at the same time. The necessary electrons for charge conservation are taken right from the electronic shell of the xenon atom itself. Two electron neutrinos are emitted to conserve lepton number. Although the neutrinoless case is also thinkable, the standard model decay with two neutrinos is exciting in itself. It is predicted but has not been detected so far. It t would be the longest-lived nuclear decay process ever observed directly. As XENON1T has the largest mass of Xe-124 in an experiment to date – about 1.5 kg due to the rarity of Xe-124 in natural xenon – it will be the most sensitive detector to search for this double electron capture process.
All in all, the future looks bright for large xenon detectors in neutrino physics and there are a bunch of exciting publications to look forward to.
Results from XENON1T, the world’s largest and most sensitive detector dedicated to a direct search for Dark Matter in the form of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs), are reported today (Monday, 28th May) by the spokesperson, Prof. Elena Aprile of Columbia University, in a seminar at the hosting laboratory, the INFN Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso (LNGS), in Italy. The international collaboration of more than 165 researchers from 27 institutions, has successfully operated XENON1T, collecting an unprecedentedly large exposure of about 1 tonne x year with a 3D imaging liquid xenon time projection chamber. The data are consistent with the expectation from background, and place the most stringent limit on spin-independent interactions of WIMPs with ordinary matter for a WIMP mass higher than 6 GeV/c². The sensitivity achieved with XENON1T is almost four orders of magnitude better than that of XENON10, the first detector of the XENON Dark Matter project, which has been hosted at LNGS since 2005. Steadily increasing the fiducial target mass from the initial 5 kg to the current 1300 kg, while simultaneously decreasing the background rate by a factor 5000, the XENON collaboration has continued to be at the forefront of Dark Matter direct detection, probing deeper into the WIMP parameter space.
WIMPs are a class of Dark Matter candidates which are being frantically searched with experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, in space, and on Earth. Even though about a billion WIMPs are expected to cross a surface of one square meter per second on Earth, they are extremely difficult to detect. Results from XENON1T show that WIMPs, if they indeed comprise the Dark Matter in our galaxy, will result in a rare signal, so rare that even the largest detector built so far can not see it directly. XENON1T is a cylindrical detector of approximately one meter height and diameter, filled with liquid xenon at -95°C, with a density three times that of water. In XENON1T, the signature of a WIMP interaction with xenon atoms is a tiny flash of scintillation light and a handful of ionization electrons, which themselves are turned into flashes of light. Both light signals are simultaneously recorded with ultra-sensitive photodetectors, giving the energy and 3D spatial information on an event-by-event basis.
In developing this unique type of detector to search for a rare WIMP signal, many challenges had to be overcome; first and foremost the reduction of the overwhelmingly large background from many sources, from radioactivity to cosmic rays. Today, XENON1T is the largest Dark Matter experiment with the lowest background ever measured, counting a mere 630 events in one year and one tonne of xenon in the energy region of interest for a WIMP search. The search results, submitted to Physical Review Letters, are based on 1300 kg out of the total 2000 kg active xenon target and 279 days of data, making it the first WIMP search with a noble liquid target exposure of 1.0 tonne x year. Only two background events were expected in the innermost, cleanest region of the detector, but none were detected, setting the most stringent limit on WIMPs with masses above 6 GeV/c² to date. XENON1T continues to acquire high quality data and the search will continue until it will be upgraded with a larger mass detector, being developed by the collaboration. With another factor of four increase in fiducial target mass, and ten times less background rate, XENONnT will be ready in 2019 for a new exploration of particle Dark Matter at a level of sensitivity nobody imagined when the project started in 2002.
Everything scales up! Even the amount of acquired raw data in XENON1T. To handle data transfers easily, the XENON collaboration decided to let the Rucio Scientific Data Managment software do all the work. Rucio is developed at CERN and meant to manage scientific data. Data transfers, book keeping, easy data access and safety against data loss are its big advantage.
XENON1T is taking about one Terabyte of raw data per day. The detector is located at the Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sass (LNGS) in Italy and the data need to be shipped out to dedicated computing centers for data reduction and analysis.
Individual Rucio clients access dedicated GRID disk space on world wide distributed computer facilities. Everything is controlled by a Rucio server which keeps track on storage locations, data sizes and transfers within the computer infrastructure. Rucio is developed in Python and its distribution becomes very simple.
The First Rucio Community Workshop was held at CERN on 1st and 2nd of March. Since Rucio was developed for the ATLAS collaboration, other experiments like XENON and AMS started to use Rucio a while ago. Nowadays, more collaborations such as EISCAT 3D, LIGO or NA62 (just to mention a few) became interested. The workshop allowed to meet all each other: developers and users discussed several use cases and how to improve Rucio for individual collaborations.
We presented our integration of Rucio in the existing data handling framework. XENON1T raw data are distributed to five computing centers in Europe and the US. Each one is connected to the European Grid Interface (EGI) or the Open Science Grid (OSG) for data reduction (“processing”). Raw data are processed on the GRID and the reduced data sets are provided for the analysts on Research Computing Center (RCC) in Chicago. Beyond this, the XENON collaboration will continue to use Rucio for the upcoming XENONnT upgrade.
Once a year the Spring-Meeting of the German Physics Society (DPG “Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschafft”) takes place. This year I had the opportunity to talk about the planned neutron Veto for XENONnT in Würzburg (19.-23.3.2018).
In order to maximize the fiducial volume, we want to veto nuclear recoils. Therefore we are working on a neutron veto system based on Gadolinium loaded liquid scintillator. The plan is to use acrylic boxes, which can be filled with liquid scintillator before being placed around the TPC cryostat.
Building on the experience of DOUBLE CHOOZ, we developed a first LAB-based liquid scintillator doped with 0.1 % Gadolinium and two wavelength shifters. Three measurements were performed to test the optical properties, transmission, emission and relative light yield. From the transmission measurement, we learned that the attenuation length of the scintillator at a wavelength of 430nm is 7.1m. The emission measurement shows the shifting due to the wavelength shifters to the visible wavelength. And with the relative light yield measurement we can compare an unloaded scintillator sample with the Gd-loaded sample. The light yield for the loaded scintillator decreases to 74% of the unloaded sample.
Our next steps will be to find a supplier who can provide us with a large and pure amount of the Gadolinium-Complex and to build a setup for neutron tagging measurements.
The spring meeting of the german physics society took place from 19th to 23rd March in Würzburg, a very historic city with its baroque Residence from 1744 that belongs to the UNESCO world heritage. The meeting is a yearly get-together of physicists working in german institutions and provides the opportunity to exchange and learn about new projects and results within the particle physics community. The conference program can be found here.
During my presentation of the XENON1T experiment, I tried to share my excitement about the upcoming results from the new data set of our second science run (SR1) that was acquired during the course of last year within 247 live days. Here is one slide showing the collected data in the S2 vs. S1 space on the right:
For comparison, the data from the first science run (SR0) that was ended by an earthquake is shown in the left figure. Already with SR0 which was a factor of 8 shorter than SR1 we could set the most stringent limit on spin-independent WIMP-nucleon cross-sections and prove a detector background level that makes XENON1T the most sensitive experiment worldwide. Hence, we are eager to unblind the signal region (marked by the blue band) in the new data set after some final checks of the analysis and find out if we actually measured a few WIMP events. We would be able to see a 3 sigma excess of a signal with a cross section just below the upper limit of SR0 with more than 50% probability. So maybe the discovery of dark matter is just around the corner?
At the 2018 April Meeting of APS last weekend, I presented a brief summary of how and why we calibrate the XENON1T detector. The April Meeting is one of the largest American physics conferences and covers a broad range of research, from nuclear and particle physics to gravitation and cosmology. Below you can see one of the slides that I presented:
This shows how we use data from calibrations to understand every piece of physics in our detector, from a particle entering and hitting a xenon atom to the measurement of the light and charge produced by this interaction. Combining the many different calibrations we do, we develop a complete model of XENON1T which is then used in a statistics framework to determine whether the background data we’ve taken contains WIMPs. Stay tuned as it won’t be too long before we can release those results as well!
Last week I had the opportunity to present the XENON1T experiment at the Recontres de Moriond electroweak conference in La Thuile Italy in the beautiful Aosta Valley. This meeting is one of the most important meetings for LHC physics, but has slowly expanded to encapsulate a variety of topics, including the hunt for dark matter. The conference program and slides are available on indico. The XENON1T presentation focused on our dark matter search results from last spring as well as the upcoming result using about a factor of 10 more exposure, which is under intense preparation for release. The whole presentation is available from the indico page but here is one slide from it:
Here we discuss how we were able to increase the amount of liquid xenon we use for our dark matter search from ~1000kg to ~1300kg. The top left plot shows an example larger search volume (red) compared to the smaller volume used for the first result. But it’s not so simple as just adding volume. While our inner detector is completely free of WIMP-like background, the outer radii contain background components that can mimic WIMPs. This is illustrated in the bottom right plot where the background-free inner volume (right) is contrasted with the full search volume containing the outer radial sections (left). The full volume has a contribution from PTFE (Teflon) surface background (green contour and points) that is absent as soon as we consider only the inner volume.
Our statistical interpretation has been updated so it is smart enough to take this into account. We parameterize our entire search region in both radial and spatial dimensions with expected signal and background distributions described at each location. This allows us to fully exploit the sensitivity of our innermost background-free volumes while also gaining a modest improvement from the outermost ones.
The search for new physics with a large underground xenon detector is like listening to your favorite song in a quiet room with high end headphones for the first time. Even if you have listened to the song a thousand times, you will be surprised by all the small nuances that have been there all along and that you did not hear before. This is either because it was too loud around you or because your headphones were not good enough. The quiet room in this analogy is the xenon detector that has been made from materials selected for their ultra-low radioactivity and that is shielded by a water tank, a mountain and ultimately the xenon in the detector itself. The high end headphones on the other hand are the extremely sensitive photomultipliers, data acquisition system and tailor-made software to read out the signals produced by particles interacting inside the detector.
As you may have read before on this blog (we love to point this out…) XENON1T is the lowest background dark matter detector in the world. But the fact that the detector is so quiet does not mean that it does not measure anything. As a very sensitive instrument it is able to detect even the faintest signals from radioactive decays in the detector materials or the xenon itself. Over the course of one year these decays amount to a sizeable amount of data. The picture below shows what this looks like.
The x-axis denotes the energies of particles measured with the XENON1T detector. These are mostly electrons, x-rays and higher energy -rays. The y-axis shows how many of these particles have been counted over the whole measurement time of the last science run of the experiment. In order to have a better comparability with similar experiments, the event count has been divided by the live time of the experiment, its mass and the step size on the energy axis (the binning) in which we count. One can see that even in the highest peaks we measure less than one event per kilogram detector material and day of measurement time in a 100 keV energy window. A quiet room, indeed. And the features in the spectrum are all those nuances that one could not see before. So what are they?
One can divide the spectrum into several regions. Only the small portion of data in the very left of the plot next to the first grey-shaded region is relevant to the standard dark matter search. The heavy and non-relativistic WIMP is expected to only deposit very little energy, so it resides here. The following grey region is blinded, which means it has deliberately been made inacessible to XENON analysers. The reason for this is that it might contain traces of a rare nuclear decay of Xe-124, the two neutrino double electron capture, that has not been observed until now, and we do not want to bias ourselves in looking for it. The large region from about 100-2300 keV contains multiple peaks. Each of these peaks belongs to a monoenergetic -line of a radioactive isotope contained in the detector materials or the extremely pure xenon itself. One can easily see that the peaks are sitting on an irregular continuous pedestal. This is created by -rays depositing only part of their total energy due to Compton scattering inside or outside the detector, decays of radioisotopes inside the detector, and the two neutrino double -decay of Xe-136. The latter produces a continuous energy spectrum over the whole energy range that ends at 2458 keV. The decay is rare, but becomes relevant due to the large amount of Xe-136 in the detector and the relative smallness of other background contributions. Xe-136 is also responsible for the second gray-shaded region at high energies which might contain an experimental signature of its neutrinoless double -decay. This hypothetical decay mode would produce a monoenergetic line centered at the end of the aforementioned spectrum at 2458 keV. The observation of this decay would be a gateway to new physics and complements the physics program of XENON1T. As their signatures have to be distinguished from other background components the energy resolution of the detector becomes crucial.
To grasp the concept of energy resolution one can imagine the following situation in the energy spectrum. If you have two peaks next to one another, one your sought-after signal and one a pesky background, how far do they have to be apart in order to be seen as individual peaks? This of course relies on how wide they are. Thus, the energy resolution in XENON1T is characterized by the width of peaks in the energy spectrum relative to their measured energy. By fitting Gaussian functions to all the peaks in the spectrum at the top one obtains the ratio of peak width to peak center. This is what the above plot shows for several liquid xenon dark matter experiments. One can see that with an increase in particle energy the resolution improves. It is also evident that XENON1T leads the pack over a wide energy range. This is underlines that XENON1T is the astroparticle physics equivalent of high-end headphones. With these the XENON collaboration is in the position to pursue several exciting physics channels apart from weakly interacting massive particles. So stay tuned for the analyses to come.
The figures show the low-energy background events distributed in our detector after application of an algorithm to correct their positions. Background events can be seen to cluster mostly at the surfaces of the detector, at high radii and at the cathode near the bottom. (The color scale is logarithmic)
Event interaction position is important for background rejection, likelihood analysis etc. Our 3D position reconstruction is based on event drift time and PMT hit patterns. However, as the drift field is not perfectly vertical, the reconstructed position at the gate does not exactly correspond to the interaction position. To get to a corrected position, a data-driven method based on the radioactive isotope Krypton-83m is developed. The idea is to utilize the radial uniformity of Krypton-83m events. Regular Krypton-83m calibrations throughout the whole science run can guarantee that we have sufficient statistics to properly correct positions for different radius, angle, depth and time. Thanks to this new position algorithm, we were able to increase the useful exposure by around 30%.
XENON1T is the largest and most sensitive WIMP dark matter detector to date, recording scientific data in the Italian Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso (LNGS). Our collaboration recently grew larger again and now has more than 160 members from 27 institutions. As of December 1st, 2017, key members of the Japanese XMASS collaboration have officially joined XENON and will contribute to the realization of the upcoming XENONnT.
XMASS is a single-phase liquid xenon experiment in the Kamioka mine, the Japanese underground laboratory hosting the Nobel-prize winning SuperKamiokande experiment. Researchers come from the University of Tokyo (groups of Prof. Shigetaka Moriyama and Prof. Kai Martens), Nagoya University (group of Prof. Yoshitaka Itow) and Kobe University (group of Prof. Kentaro Miuchi). XMASS will continue to record data until the end of this year, in line with the planned start of XENONnT.
XENONnT is an upgrade phase to the currently running XENON1T experiment. With a target mass three times larger than XENON1T, and a considerably reduced background, XENONnT will explore WIMP-nucleon interactions with a ten-fold higher sensitivity than XENON1T. The Japanese groups bring expertise in LXe detector technologies and low background experiments relevant to the XENON Dark Matter program. We are excited about our newest collaborators from Japan as we continue to move forward with the XENON program at LNGS.