Hunting for 'ghost particles': How CERN plans to search for a better understanding of the Universe

A technician works in the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) tunnel of CERN, 2016.
A technician works in the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) tunnel of CERN, 2016. Copyright Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP, file
By Anna Desmarais
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CERN is launching a project that researchers say could help them prove the existence of hidden particles that make up the fabric of the Universe.


Scientists at the world's biggest particle accelerator are going to get a new tool that researchers say could help them discover the hidden fabrics of the Universe.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is building a new supercollider called the Future Circular Collider that is 1,000 times more sensitive to so-called "hidden particles" than the equipment the organisation already operates.

Supercolliders allow scientists to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang, the physical theory that describes how the Universe initially expanded.

The new device would smash particles against a hard surface instead of against each other, which is the technique currently used by scientists to figure out what the Universe is made of.

The collider is part of CERN’s Search for Hidden Particles Project (SHiP): a project 10 years in the making that will study some of the weaker particles in space.

Dr Richard Jacobsson, senior staff physicist at CERN, said this project could be a "huge breakthrough" that redefines how scientists think about the creation of the Universe.

"SHiP is one of those… potentially paradigm-shifting experiments that could really drive us into a whole new regime of knowledge not just about our Universe, but about our position in the Universe," Jacobsson said in an interview.

"Much of what we have assumed up until now could actually be quite different".

Scientists have never succeeded in detecting these types of particles before, Jacobsson said, because they do not have the right technology to do so.

What are ghost particles?

All of what we are able to see with our naked eye from space, including stars and the planets, composes about five per cent of the actual matter in the Universe, Jacobsson said.

The other 95 per cent are so far split between roughly 26 per cent dark matter and 69 per cent dark energy, according to Jacobsson.

Scientists use the Standard Model, which recognises 17 different particles, to explain what the Universe is made of.

In 2012, CERN scientists discovered a new Standard Model particle called the Higgs Boson with a Large Hadron Collider, a discovery that won them the Nobel Prize in Physics a year later.

Since then, scientists have been unsuccessful at using that same collider to measure the hidden particles that also possibly make up dark matter and dark energy but that are not part of the Standard Model.

"[The discovery of the Higgs Boson] filled a hole without predicting something new," Jacobsson said.

“The idea for this project got together almost by accident with people from different areas wanting to explore physics from another angle".

“Hidden” or ghost particles are invisible and have weaker connections than the particles scientists have already discovered, making them difficult to detect. It’s possible that these particles make up some or the rest of the Universe, Jacobsson said.

New particles in the Large Hadron Collider already at CERN can be detected up to a metre from the site of the collision but hidden particles remain invisible for much longer before revealing themselves.


So, the detectors in the new collider for the SHiP project will be placed further away and will produce more collisions against a fixed backdrop as a way to finally identify these particles.

The SHiP project will be working alongside the other CERN experiments, including the Large Hadron Collider.

Construction on the SHiP’s new underground facilities will start in 2026 with the first experiments taking place around 2032.

The Future Circular Collider, on the other hand, will start sometime in the mid-2040s but will not be at its full potential until 2070, a report from the BBC said.

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