Tag Archives: 2019

The XENONnT dual-phase xenon TPC requires two regions with different electric fields to drift, extract, and accelerate the small number of ionization electrons that are created by a possible dark matter interaction with xenon nuclei. These fields will be created with a total of five electrodes that are biased at constant electric potentials from top to the bottom of the TPC. The challenges to build these large electrodes with almost 1.5 meters in diameter with very thin wires include stringent requirements on their optical transparency, wire sagging, field uniformity and high voltage stability.

Such a challenging project is carried out by a collaborative effort of many expertises within the XENON collaboration. The design and production of the electrodes are led by Dr. Carla Macolino and realized by researchers from the Laboratoire de l’Accélérateur Linéaire, Rice University, University of California San Diego, and University of Coimbra, accompanied by further technical design and electric field simulation support from University of Chicago and Freiburg University. A special instrument was designed and built by the University of Münster to measure the tension of every individual wire. Finally, strict cleaning requirement is satisfied from the expertise at MPI for Nuclear Physics and technical support from Nikhef.

Shown are the actual XENONnT electrodes during construction and quality control in above-ground clean room laboratories.


XENON on skis

XENON was present at the ALPS conference in Austria. Chiara Capelli from University of Zurich gave a talk on behalf of the XENON collaboration. The talk focused on the latest XENON1T results on spin-independent and spin-dependent WIMPs, and on the newest results on two-neutrinos double electron capture, with a final status on the XENONnT upgrade. The talk is available here.

Observing the Rarest Decay Process Ever Measured

[Press Release April 2019 – for immediate release. Paper published in Nature and preprint on the arxiv.]

The universe is almost 14 billion years old. An inconceivable length of time by human standards – yet compared to some physical processes, it is but a moment. There are radioactive nuclei that wdecay on much longer time scales. Using our XENON1T detector at the INFN Gran Sasso National Laboratory, we were able to observe the decay of Xenon-124 atomic nuclei for the first time.

The half-life of a process is the time after which half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample have decayed away. The half-life measured for Xenon-124 is about one trillion times longer than the age of the universe. This makes the observed radioactive decay, the so-called double electron capture of Xenon-124, the rarest process ever seen happening in a detector. “The fact that we managed to observe this process directly demonstrates how powerful our detection method actually is – also for signals which are not from dark matter,” says Prof. Christian Weinheimer from the University of Münster (Germany) whose group lead the study. In addition, the new result provides information for further investigations on neutrinos, the lightest of all elementary particles whose nature is still not fully understood. XENON1T is a joint experimental project of about 160 scientists from Europe, the US and the Middle East. The results were published in the science journal “Nature”.

A sensitive dark matter detector

The Gran Sasso Laboratory of the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) in Italy, where scientists are currently searching for dark matter particles is located about 1,400 meters beneath the Gran Sasso massif, well protected from cosmic rays which can produce false signals. Theoretical considerations predict that dark matter should very rarely “collide” with the atoms of the detector. This assumption is fundamental to the working principle of the XENON1T detector: its central part consists of a cylindrical tank of about one meter in length filled with 3,200 kilograms of liquid xenon at a temperature of –95° C. When a dark matter particle interacts with a xenon atom, it transfers energy to the atomic nucleus which subsequently excites other xenon atoms. This leads to the emission of faint signals of ultraviolet light which are detected by means of sensitive light sensors located in the upper and lower parts of the cylinder. The same sensors also detect a minute amount of electrical charge which is released by the collision process.

In double electron capture, two electrons and two protons simultaneously convert into two neutrons and two neutrinos. X-rays are emitted when the electron vacancies are subsequently filled.

The new study shows that the XENON1T detector is also able to measure other rare physical phenomena, such as double electron capture. To understand this process, one should know that an atomic nucleus normally consists of positively charged protons and neutral neutrons, which are surrounded by several atomic shells occupied by negatively charged electrons. Xenon-124, for example, has 54 protons and 70 neutrons. In double electron capture, two protons in the nucleus simultaneously “catch” two electrons from the innermost atomic shell, transform into two neutrons, and emit two neutrinos. The other atomic electrons reorganize themselves to fill in the two holes in the innermost shell. The energy released in this process is carried away by X-rays and so-called Auger electrons. However, these signals are very hard to detect, as double electron capture is a very rare process which is hidden by signals from the omnipresent natural radioactivity.

The measurement

The peak at 64keV from double electron capture of Xenon-124 is clearly visible in this plot of the background spectrum from XENON1T.

This is how the XENON collaboration succeeded with this measurement: The X-rays from the double electron capture in the liquid xenon produced an initial light signal as well as free electrons. The electrons were moved towards the gas-filled upper part of the detector where they generated a second light signal. The time difference between the two signals corresponds to the time it takes the electrons to reach the top of the detector. Scientists used this interval and the information provided by the sensors measuring the signals to reconstruct the position of the double electron capture. The energy released in the decay was derived from the strength of the two signals. All signals from the detector were recorded over a period of more than one year, however, without looking at them at all as the experiment was conducted in a “blind” fashion. This means that the scientists could not access the data in the energy region of interest until the analysis was finalized to ensure that personal expectations did not skew the outcome of the study. Thanks to the detailed understanding of all relevant sources of background signals it became clear that 126 observed events in the data were indeed caused by the double electron capture of Xenon-124.

Using this first-ever measurement, the physicists calculated the enormously long half-life of 1.8×1022 years for the process. This is the slowest process ever measured directly. It is known that the atom Tellurium-128 decays with an even longer half-life, however, its decay was never observed directly and the half-life was inferred indirectly from another process. The new results show how well the XENON1T detector can detect rare processes and reject background signals. While two neutrinos are emitted in the double electron capture process, scientists can now also search for the so-called neutrino-less double electron capture which could shed light on important questions regarding the nature of neutrinos.

Status and outlook

XENON1T acquired data from 2016 until December 2018 when it was switched off. The scientists are currently upgrading the experiment for the new “XENONnT” phase which will feature a three times larger active detector mass. Together with a reduced background level this will boost the detector’s sensitivity by an order of magnitude.


On March 8, 2019, Shigetaka Moriyama presented the status of the XENONnT experiment at the international symposium on “Revealing the history of the Universe with underground particle and nuclear research” in Sendai, Japan. The symposium is held by a Japanese research community working on underground experiments and developing low background techniques. Its members are interested in the physics goals of XENONnT as well as its radon reduction technique and will enhance the experiment with Super-Kamiokande’s water Cherenkov technology developed in Kamioka, Japan, for the SK-Gd project. Super-Kamiokande developed this technology to measure the diffuse relic neutrino flux from past supernovae.

At the Sendai meeting, this community is summarizing its achievements over last five years and aims to secure new funding for the next five years by expanding its activity through internationalization and the inclusion of new physics topics such as history of stars, galaxies, and the origin of the heavy elements in the Universe.

Its HP is here and the slides are available here.

Outline the XENONnT Computing Scheme at the 2nd Rucio Community Workshop in Oslo

Oslo welcomed all 66 participants of the second Rucio Community Workshop with pleasant weather and a venue which offered an astonishing view about the capital of Norway.
The opensource and contribution model of the Rucio data management tool captures more and more attention from numerous fields. Therefore, 21 communities reported this year about the implementation of Rucio in their current data workflows, discussed with the Rucio developing team possible improvements and chatted among each other during the coffee breaks to learn from others experiences. Among the various communities were presentations given by the DUNE experiment, Belle-2 and LSST. The XENON Dark Matter Collaboration presented the computing scheme of the upcoming XENONnT experiment. Two keynote talks from Richard Hughes-Jones (University of Maryland) and Gundmund Høst (NeIC) highlighted the concepts of the upcoming generation of academic networks and the Nordic e-Infrastructure Collaboration.

After the successful XENON1T stage with two major science runs, a world-leading limit for spin-indepenent Dark Matter interactions with nucleons and further publications, the XENON1T experiment stopped data taking in December 2018. We aim for two major updates for the successor stage of XENONnT: a larger time projection chamber (TPC) which holds ~8,000 kg of liquid xenon with 496 PMTs for signal readout and an additional neutron veto detector based on Gadolinium doped water in our water tank. That requires upgrades in our current data management and processing scheme, which was presented last year at the first Rucio Community Workshop. Fundamental change is the new data processor STRAX which allows us much faster data processing. Based on the recorded raw data, the final data product will be available at distinct intermediate processing stages which depend on each other. Therefore, we stop using our “classical” data scheme of raw data, processed data and minitrees, and instead aim for a more flexible data structure. Nevertheless, all stages of the data are distributed with Rucio to connected grid computing facilities. STRAX will be able to process data from the TPC, the MuonVeto and the NeutronVeto together to allow coincident analysis.

The data flow of the XENONnT experiment

The data flow of the XENONnT experiment. A first set data is processed already at the LNGS. All data kinds are distributed with Rucio to the analysts.

Reprocessing campaigns are planed ahead with HTCondor and DAGMan jobs at EGI and OSG similar to the setup of XENON1T. Due to the faster data processor, it becomes necessary to outline a well-established read and write routine with Rucio to guarantee quick data access.
Another major update in the XENONnT computing scheme becomes the tape backup location. Because of the increased number of disks and tape allocations in the Rucio catalogue, we will abandon the Rucio independent tape backup in Stockholm and use dedicated Rucio storage elements for storing the raw data. The XENON1T experiment collected ~780 TB of (raw) data during its life time which are all managed by Rucio. The XENON Collaboration is looking forward to continuing this success story with XENONnT

Modeling and statistical analysis of the XENON1T data

On May 31st 2018, XENON1T released the result of a search for dark matter interacting with xenon atoms using an exposure of 1 tonne-year. Papers presenting the scientific results are written to be brief, and communicate the most important information to the scientific community. Therefore, many details of the instrument, reconstruction of events and analysis work by the entire collaboration must be left out of the science papers. XENON1T has previously published a paper focusing on the operation of the detector itself. A new paper by XENON1T now goes into the details of the analysis of the XENON1T data, and another one, on the event reconstruction and calibration, is being prepared.

XENON1T detects the scintillation light and ionization electrons that energy depositions in the two tonne liquid xenon target produce. In addition to WIMPs, different background sources can produce an S1+S2 signal. The expected S1,S2 distribution may change depending on whether the energy deposition happens by a recoil on an electron of the xenon atom or the nucleus. This is one of the main methods XENON uses to discriminate against backgrounds, since WIMPs, which scatter on the xenon nucleus, have a mean S2 lower than 99.7% of the dominant background component, which is made up of scatters on electrons.

Modelling how an electronic or nuclear recoil will look like in the detector is crucial both to know the shape of a WIMP signal, and to model the backgrounds well. XENON1T uses a comprehensive fit to multiple calibration sources to constrain the distributions of backgrounds and signals in the analysis space; S1, S2 and the radius from the center axis of the detector.
Some background components are harder to model directly, and are estimated by using sidebands or other data samples. In the XENON1T analysis, coincidences between unrelated, lone S1 and S2 events were modeled this way, in addition to the surface background– events occurring close to or at the detector wall.

Models of various backgrounds and the expected WIMP signal in two of the parameters extracted from each even, scintillation S1 and ionization S2 signals.

The models of each background and the signal, for two separate science runs, are put together in a likelihood, which is a mathematical function of the WIMP signal strength as well as nuisance parameters. These are unknowns that could change the analysis, such as the true expectation value for each background component. The likelihood also contains multiple terms representing measurements of nuisance parameter, which constrain them when the likelihood is fitted to the data collected by XENON1T.

The value of the likelihood evaluated at a specific signal strength has a random distribution which is estimated using simulated realizations of the experimental outcome. The final statistical limits are computed by comparing the likelihood computed on the actual data with the distributions found from the simulations: 

Likelihood as function of the signal strength (measured by the WIMP-nucleon cross-section)
The gray area shows likelihoods that corresponds to a 90% exclusion. The confidence interval– the region of signal strength compatible with the observed data– is the region where the likelihood lies below the gray band.

The models and tools used in the XENON1T spin-independent analysis are also used to explore alternative models of dark matter, such as spin-independent interactions and scatterings between WIMPs and pions, with more to come!


XENON1T at Lake Louise

Physics meets winter sports at the Lake Louise Winter Institute, a particle physics conference held annually in the beautiful Canadian Rockies. On February 12, 2019, Evan Shockley from University of Chicago presented at the conference on behalf of the XENON collaboration. The talk focused on the latest, world-leading WIMP results, and included a status update on XENON1T and its imminent upgrade, XENONnT. The talk is available here.

XENONnT will feature a larger detector and even lower background than XENON1T, making it ~10 times more sensitive to interactions from dark matter and other rare processes. With installation coming later this year, it’s an exciting time for the XENON collaboration and the field of dark matter research!


Constraining the spin-dependent WIMP-nucleon interaction with XENON1T

Since we don’t know how dark matter interacts with more familiar particles, we have to break up our search for weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) in terms of their possible interactions with xenon nuclei. While many complex interactions are possible, we generally start with two simple cases: WIMP-nucleus interactions that don’t depend on the nuclear spin, and those that do. XENON1T set a world-leading constraint on the former, “spin-independent” interaction in 2018. Today, we released our first results constraining the latter, “spin-dependent” interaction. The results are shown in the following figure:

The spin-dependent WIMP-nucleon interaction contains a range of possible cases, so experiments typically consider two extreme ones: the case where WIMPs only scatter off protons, and the case where they only scatter off neutrons. Most of the spin in xenon is carried by neutrons, so xenon experiments are better at constraining the neutron-only case. These results set the most stringent limit on this case, using the same data and procedure as the spin-independent result. We also tried out a new method of combining our constraints with complementary searches at particle accelerators, following the example of PICO-60. An open-access pre-print version of the paper is available on the arXiv.

The first limits on spin-independent WIMP-pion interactions

XENON1T was built to observe the recoil of xenon-atoms, which may be caused by the interaction of a Weakly Interacting Massive Particle (WIMP) as it passes through the detector. A recoiling xenon atom produces scintillation light and ionization that XENON1T detects as an S1 and S2 signal, which carry information of the recoil type, energy and position in the detector. The first results of the XENON1T were published on the spin-independent WIMP-nucleon interaction, which is expected to dominate the WIMP scattering rate. However, models of WIMPs exist where this contribution would be suppressed or vanish. XENON has therefore performed searches for alternative WIMP-recoil spectra, such as the one expected if the scattering depends on the nucleon spins.

A careful accounting of all the possible WIMP-nucleon interactions showed that WIMPs can also interact with pions— subatomic particles that contribute to the strong force that binds atoms together. The figure illustrates a WIMP (χ) scattering via a mediator line on a pion (π) exchanged between a proton and a neutron in the xenon nucleus. The xenon atom recoils from the interaction, which can be observed with our detector. Similarly to the spin-independent recoil, the wimp-pion interaction happens in a way where the WIMP scatters coherently, off the entire xenon atom together. 

A WIMP scattering on a pion exchanged within the xenon nucleus

The analysis was performed with the same tools as the main XENON1T spin-independent WIMP search, and 1 tonne-years of data. No significant evidence for a signal was observed, so we set the first limits on the spin-independent WIMP-pion interaction strength. An open access pre-print of the paper can be found on the arxiv.