Author Archives: Rafael Lang

Water Tank Filling

We started to fill the water tank:

In this view from the top, the cryostat with the actual detector is visible on the left. Photomultiplier tubes of the water Cherenkov muon veto are seen at the bottom and side of the water tank, to the right of the image.

In this view from the top, the cryostat with the actual detector is visible on the left. Photomultiplier tubes of the water Cherenkov muon veto are seen at the bottom and side of the water tank, to the right of the image.

The water acts as a passive shielding against external radioactivity. In addition, using the photomultipliers that can be seen towards the right of the picture, the water acts as an active muon detector. Muons may induce events in the xenon detector that may mimic dark matter signals. We therefore turn a blind eye (“veto”) for a short time whenever a muon travels through the water tank.

XENON1T First Light

Today XENON1T has seen its first light:

firstlightThis is literally the first event recorded by the detector in that is is a single photon that was detected by one of the photomultipliers and recorded by the whole XENON1T data acquisition setup. What you can see from the picture is that our noise is indeed very low compared to the smallest possible signal – that of a single photon! And this is even without any fine-tuning of our electronics yet.

The detector is still empty and we are checking the photomultipliers one by one before making first background measurements. Filling with liquid xenon will happen as soon as those tests are concluded successfully.

Gran Sasso Lab on Google Street View

The Gran Sasso laboratory that hosts the XENON1T experiment is the largest underground laboratory in the world. More than a dozen different experiments make use of the low background from cosmic radiation that you get when you go more than a mile deep underground. You can virtually walk around the lab using the Street View from Google Maps.

The lab also offers public tours, just get in touch with them directly if you want to walk around in person.

Farewell to ICARUS

The ICARUS experiment just left Hall B at the Gran Sasso underground laboratory in Italy for its journey to CERN in Switzerland. We had designed the XENON1T water tank a bit smaller than originally planned to allow ICARUS to move past. Everything went smoothly, but it was a tight fit…

ICARUS moving

Part of the ICARUS experiment is hanging from the large crane in Hall B of the Gran Sasso underground lab, tightly squeezing past the XENON1T water tank on its way to CERN.

We wish our colleagues all the best with the future of their experiment. Read the full story of this move at interactions.org.

Nitrogen Tanks Installed

We use liquid and gaseous nitrogen for a variety of things: Liquid nitrogen is used to initially liquefy the xenon and to keep the xenon cold in case of power failures. Gaseous nitrogen is mainly used as a blanket on top of the water inside the muon veto in order to keep radioactive radon gas out. Our two nitrogen storage tanks have been delivered, installed, and tested:

Nitrogen Tanks

Dr. Marcello Messina (from Columbia University) and Dr. Domenico Franco (from Zürich University) underground in front of the two XENON nitrogen storage tanks.

 

Cryogenic Pipe Installed

The XENON1T detector sits in the center of a large water tank. All the signal and high voltage cables, pipes for liquid and gaseous xenon, vacuum piping and various other lines get there via one large pipe.

Installation of the cryogenic pipe inside the XENON1T water tank, July 2014

Installation of the cryogenic pipe inside the XENON1T water tank, July 2014

We have just finished the installation of this pipe. It’s actually a quite fascinating piece of engineering. In it, there are all the signal and high voltage cables for the photomultiplier tubes. There are pipes to recirculate the xenon for purification in the adjacent building, which are themselves inside a vacuum-insulated pipe that in turn runs inside this pipe. The large diameter pipe is also used to evacuate the cryostat, as well as the heat insulation of the cryostat. And it holds a bunch of extra cables and wires for various other sensors. So, it’s really much more than just a pipe. It’s the lifeline to the detector. And it’s pretty cramped:

Cable bunches

These are the signal wires, bunched together into a single pipe inside the cryogenic pipe. They are PTFE-insulated, low-radioactivity wires with custom-made connectors.

 

The XENON Detection Principle

The XENON dark matter experiment is installed underground at the Laboratory Nazionali del Gran Sasso of INFN, Italy. A 62 kg liquid xenon target is operated as a dual phase (liquid/gas) time projection chamber to search for interactions of dark matter particles.

Schema of XENON

Schema of the XENON experiment: any particle interaction in the liquid xenon (blue) yields two signals: a prompt flash of light, and a delayed charge signal. Together, these two signals give away the energy and position of the interaction as well as the type of the interacting particle. (Schema: The XENON collaboration/Rafael Lang)

An interaction in the target generates scintillation light which is recorded as a prompt signal (called S1) by two arrays of photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) at the top and bottom of the chamber. In addition, each interaction liberates electrons, which are drifted by an electric field to the liquid-gas interface with a speed of about 2 mm/μs. There, a strong electric field extracts the electrons and generates proportional scintillation which is recorded by the same photomultiplier arrays as a delayed signal (called S2). The time difference between these two signals gives the depth of the interaction in the time-projection chamber with a resolution of a few mm. The hit pattern of the S2 signal on the top array allows to reconstruct the horizontal position of the interaction vertex also with a resolution of a few mm. Taken together, our experiment is able to precisely localize events in all three coordinates. This enables the fiducialization of the target, yielding a dramatic
reduction of external radioactive backgrounds due to the self-shielding capability of liquid xenon.

In addition, the ratio S2/S1 allows to discriminate electronic recoils, which are the dominant
background, from nuclear recoils, which are expected from Dark Matter interactions. And of course, the more energy a particle deposits in the detector, the brighter both S1 and S2 signals are, hence allowing us to reconstruct the particle’s deposited energy as well.

Dark Matter is Out There

Dark matter has been discovered. We know from measurements of the relic abundance of light elements that were generated just minutes after the Big Bang that the known, baryonic, matter is not sufficient to explain the energy-matter density of the Universe today. A cold dark matter component has been measured from the incredibly accurate observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background, which was emitted just 300,000 years after the Big Bang. And dark matter must exist in order to turn the tiny fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background into the huge density fluctuations that are observed in the Universe today.

Our Milky Way

Our Milky Way contains much more mass in the form of the mysterious dark matter than meets the eye. Picture by Thomas Tuchan.

Gravitational lensing and dispersion measurements of galaxy clusters, the largest bound systems that have been observed, show that dark matter is the dominating mass component. Detailed studies of half a dozen or so merging galaxy clusters have clearly ruled out possible alternative explanations involving modifications of the gravitational law, and are now starting to probe the properties of dark matter itself. We also know that dark matter exists in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, which shows rotational velocities that are independent of radius at high radii, just as in any other spiral galaxy we observe. This flat rotation curve is clearly inconsistent with that expected from Kepler’s laws but is naturally explained by the fact that galaxies are immersed in a halo of dark matter that dominates their mass.

Taken together, we have discovered dark matter with independent measurements spanning vast time scales from a few minutes after the Big Bang all the way to today, and at length scales from the Cosmos as a whole to individual galaxies. Yet, what dark matter is made out of remains entirely unknown. Thus, research into the nature of dark matter is of utmost importance to our view of the Cosmos. It is pursued with a variety of diverse approaches that test dark matter interactions with other known particles, with itself, and at a range of different energies.

Dark matter can be expected to have couplings, albeit weak, to standard matter, so that it can be searched for with laboratory experiments. This direct search for dark matter is pursued with a variety of complementary technologies and experiments. The XENON project in particular is one of the most sensitive direct searches for dark matter.