For 80 years, it has eluded the finest minds in science. But tonight it appeared that the hunt may be over for dark matter, the mysterious and invisible substance that accounts for three-quarters of the matter in the universe.
In a series of coordinated announcements at several US laboratories, researchers said they believed they had captured dark matter in a defunct iron ore mine half a mile underground. The claim, if confirmed next year, will rank as one the most spectacular discoveries in physics in the past century.
Tantalising glimpses of dark matter particles were picked up by highly sensitive detectors at the bottom of the Soudan mine in Minnesota, the scientists said.
Dan Bauer, head of the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS), said the group had spotted two particles with all the expected characteristics of dark matter. There is a one in four chance that the result is due to some other effect in the underground detectors, Bauer told a seminar at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Chicago.
This is indeed a pretty big deal. I remember from my college Advanced Physics course that one alternative to "Dark Matter" involved the universe being itself a giant black hole (which perhaps it is).
We are indeed privileged to live in this time as Sagan "sang" elsewhere; it is likely within our lifetimes that we will discover in habitable planets, and other aspects of science that are key to our existence.