The last Endeavour mission before its retirement is one of the most ambitious scientific searches ever attempted in Space: to track antimatter and dark matter in the Universe.
The International Space Station’s AMS-2 module analyses cosmic rays to search for missing elements to understand the origins of the Universe.
Outside the Earth’s atmosphere the hunt will be easier.
“Instead of the atmospere preventing the observation of radiation reaching us “in situ”, we will climb to an altitude of 400 km to observe this radiation without any obstruction”, says the leader of the Swiss team participating in the project, Dr. Martin Pohl.
According the Big Bang theory antimatter was created on a par with normal matter but then disappeared.
The matter from which everything is made is only a very small part, 5%, of the universe. Dark matter (23%) and energy (72%) are estimated to account for more than 90% of the Universe’s mass. But where are they?
“Dark matter is an important component of galaxies. It is a kind of halo that surrounds an entire galaxy but it is very poorly understood. We know about it because we see the gravitational effects of dark matter, but we do not know what it is exactly,” says Pohl.
The AMS, the largest and most complex scientific instrument ever to be installed on the ISS, will operate in very extreme conditions and it must do this with a very low power consumption.
“The space environment is extremely hostile: there is radiation, meteorites, a huge temperature range and then we have to deal with electric energy constraints. This device consumes about 2 kW of energy”, says Pohl.
The AMS detector will collect a huge amount of cosmic rays that, after travelling for hundreds of millions of light years, could bring the answer to some of the darkest secrets of the Universe’s birth.