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  01-04-2009: SIGNS FROM THE COSMOS: IS IT DARK MATTER? 
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� Credit Pamela Collaboration The use of photos is free of charge. Please request authorisation from the INFN Communication Office


� Credit Pamela Collaboration The use of photos is free of charge. Please request authorisation from the INFN Communication Office



The project Pamela (Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics), which is onboard a Russian satellite, has observed an anomalous quantity of antimatter in near space, which could be a sign of the existence of dark matter, an enigmatic matter that is hypothesized to be diffuse in our universe (comprising 23% of the Universe's matter/energy). The study, to be published tomorrow in Nature, was conducted by an international team coordinated by Italy's National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN).

Pamela is the result of a collaborative effort involving the INFN, the Russian Space Agency, and Russian research institutes, with the participation of the Italian Space Agency and German and Swedish space agencies and universities.

This tool, which consists of a magnet and numerous particle detectors, has orbited the Earth for about 3 years at an altitude of 350-600 kilometres and is used to study cosmic rays, in particular, their antimatter component. Cosmic rays are particles whose acceleration make them reaching nearly the speed of light, probably as the result of the effects of distant supernova explosions or other violent phenomena in the cosmos. They mainly consist of protons (i.e., nuclei of helium atoms or heavier atoms) and electrons. However, they also consist of (though among the rarest particles) anti-matter particles, which are identical to matter particles instead by their charge, in particular, anti-electrons (or "positrons") and anti-protons.

The results published in Nature show an anomaly in the ratio of the number of positrons to the number of electrons. A plausible explanation for this abundance of positrons is that it is a sign of dark matter, though they could be generated from pulsars or other astrophysical sources. The hypothesis is that the dark matter particles present in our galaxy interact with each other and are annihilated or decay, producing swarms of high-energy secondary particles, in particular, proton-antiproton and electron-positron pairs, which Pamela is intercepting.

"These data, together with those published in February in 'Physical Review Letters' on the ratio of antiprotons to protons, represent one of the most important contributions in recent years to the knowledge on the mystery of dark matter, allowing us to significantly narrow the field of hypotheses regarding the nature of dark matter", explains Piergiorgio Picozza of the INFN and the "Tor Vergata" University of Rome, and Coordinator of Pamela.

In addition to the nuclei of antimatter and possible signs of dark matter, the physicist involved in this project are searching for other types of unusual matter; they are also looking for indications of sources of cosmic rays and of the laws that regulate their mechanisms of acceleration and propagation in the galaxy, in addition to precise information on the evolution of the sun's activities.

The analyses (of the data collected), which began after the launch from Baikonur (Kazakistan) on June 15, 2006, constitutes an international collaborative effort involving Italian, Russian, German, and Swedish scientists.

The Italian researchers, who come from the INFN facilities in Trieste, Florence, Naples, and Bari, the "Tor Vergata" University in Rome, the INFN laboratories in Frascati, and IFAC (Institute of Applied Physics) of CNR in Florence, constitute the core group of the collaboration.

Pamela will continue to provide information for at least another three years.

"Exploring the cosmos to study anti-matter of natural origin is fundamental for understanding the origin and evolution of the Universe in which we live", explains Enrico Flamini, Director of Osservazione dell�Universo of the Italian Space Agency. "Thus Italy's commitment in this area will continue with the AMS mission, the largest antimatter detector ever built, which will be hooked up to the International Space Station at the end of next year".



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