We can be pretty confident dark matter exists, and that none of us would exist if it didn’t. But while there are a few compelling theories about what it might be and how it might function, the truth is that we don’t know very much about it at all. We live in a mysterious universe, just like it says on the tin, and dark matter is one of the most mysterious things about it.
But in a year or less, all of that might change. It’s entirely possible that by New Year’s Day, 2016, we’ll have a pretty good idea of what dark matter is. And if we do, we’ll probably have the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to thank for it.
You may remember that, earlier this year, a study suggested that discovering the secret of dark matter is a task better left to the LHC than smaller hardware. A recent article by LiveScience’s Charles Q. Choi hints at why:
[T]he LHC is set to return in 2015 nearly twice as powerful as its first run from 2010 to 2013 ...
"'By going to larger energies at the LHC, we increase the range of masses of potential dark matter particles that we can examine," said experimental particle physicist Andrew Lankford at the University of California, Irvine, who also works on the ATLAS experiment ...
Dark matter cannot be explained by any of the particles in the Standard Model of particle physics … They must therefore arise from a new understanding of physics that goes beyond the Standard Model ...
Scientists say that the LHC cannot directly detect any dark matter particles. However, after the LHC smashes protons together, any energy missing from the aftermath might hint at the creation and existence of dark matter particles, [American particle physicist Gabriella] Sciolla explained.
Of course, it’s also possible that a year from now we’ll be no closer to solving the mystery of dark matter. But a beefed-up LHC gives us the most powerful tool we’ve ever had to find exotic new particles—and with dark matter topping the list of targets, it may be only a matter of time before we figure out what most of the physical universe is really made of.