Weakly interacting massive particle
In astrophysics, weakly interacting massive particles or WIMPs, are hypothetical particles serving as one possible solution to the dark matter problem. These particles interact through the weak force and gravity, and possibly through other interactions no stronger than the weak force. Because they do not interact through electromagnetism they cannot be seen directly, and because they do not interact through the strong nuclear force they do not interact strongly with atomic nuclei. This combination of properties gives WIMPs many of the properties of neutrinos, except for being far more massive and therefore slower.
Theoretical framework and properties
WIMP-like particles are predicted by R-parity-conserving supersymmetry, a popular type of extension to the standard model of particle physics, although none of the large number of new particles in supersymmetry have been observed. The main theoretical characteristics of a WIMP are:
- Interactions only through the weak nuclear force and gravity, or possibly other interactions with cross-sections no higher than the weak scale;
- Large mass compared to standard particles (WIMPs with sub-GeV masses may be considered to be light dark matter).
Because of their lack of electromagnetic interaction with normal matter, WIMPs would be dark and invisible through normal electromagnetic observations. Because of their large mass, they would be relatively slow moving and therefore cold. Their relatively low velocities would be insufficient to overcome the mutual gravitational attraction, and as a result WIMPs would tend to clump together. WIMPs are considered one of the main candidates for cold dark matter, the others being massive compact halo objects (MACHOs) and axions. (These names were deliberately chosen for contrast, with MACHOs named later than WIMPs.) Also, in contrast to MACHOs, there are no known stable particles within the standard model of particle physics that have all the properties of WIMPs. The particles that have little interaction with normal matter, such as neutrinos, are all very light, and hence would be fast moving or hot.
WIMPs as dark matter
Although the existence of WIMPs in nature is hypothetical at this point, it would resolve a number of astrophysical and cosmological problems related to dark matter. There is near consensus today among astronomers that most of the mass in the Universe is dark. Simulations of a universe full of cold dark matter produce galaxy distributions that are roughly similar to that which is observed. By contrast hot dark matter would smear out the large-scale structure of galaxies and thus is not considered a viable cosmological model.
The WIMP fits the model of a relic dark matter particle from the early Universe, when all particles were in a state of thermal equilibrium. For sufficiently high temperatures, such as existed in the early Universe, the dark matter particle and its antiparticle would have been both forming from and annihilating into lighter particles. As the Universe expanded and cooled, the average thermal energy of these lighter particles decreased and eventually became insufficient to form a dark matter particle-antiparticle pair. The annihilation of the dark matter particle-antiparticle pairs, however, would have continued, and the number density of dark matter particles would have begun to decrease exponentially. Eventually, however, the number density would become so low that the dark matter particle and antiparticle interaction would cease, and the number of dark matter particles would remain (roughly) constant as the Universe continued to expand. Particles with a larger interaction cross section would continue to annihilate for a longer period of time, and thus would have a smaller number density when the annihilation interaction ceases. Based on the current estimated abundance of dark matter in the Universe, if the dark matter particle is such a relic particle, the interaction cross section governing the particle-antiparticle annihilation can be no larger than the cross section for the weak interaction. If this model is correct, the dark matter particle would have the properties of the WIMP.
Because WIMPs may only interact through gravitational and weak forces, they are extremely difficult to detect. However, there are many experiments underway to attempt to detect WIMPs both directly and indirectly. Halo WIMPs may, as they pass through the Sun, interact with solar protons and helium nuclei. Such an interaction would cause a WIMP to lose energy. The resulting slower WIMP would not have enough energy to escape the gravitational pull of the sun and thus would be "captured" by the Sun. As more and more WIMPs thermalize inside the Sun, they begin to annihilate with each other, forming a variety of particles including high-energy neutrinos. These neutrinos may then travel to the Earth to be detected in one of the many neutrino telescopes, such as the Super-Kamiokande detector in Japan. The number of neutrino events detected per day at these detectors depends upon the properties of the WIMP, as well as on the mass of the Higgs boson. Similar experiments are underway to detect neutrinos from WIMP annihilations within the Earth and from within the galactic center.
While most WIMP models indicate that a large enough number of WIMPs must be captured in large celestial bodies for these experiments to succeed, it remains possible that these models are either incorrect or only explain part of the dark matter phenomenon. Thus, even with the multiple experiments dedicated to providing indirect evidence for the existence of cold dark matter, direct detection measurements are also necessary to solidify the theory of WIMPs.
Although most WIMPs encountering the Sun or the Earth are expected to pass through without any effect, it is hoped that a large number of dark matter WIMPs crossing a sufficiently large detector will interact often enough to be seen—at least a few events per year. The general strategy of current attempts to detect WIMPs is to find very sensitive systems that can be scaled up to large volumes. This follows the lessons learned from the history of the discovery and (by now) routine detection of the neutrino.
A technique used by the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) detector at the Soudan Mine relies on multiple very cold germanium and silicon crystals. The crystals (each about the size of a hockey puck) are cooled to about 50 mK. A layer of metal (aluminium and tungsten) at the surfaces is used to detect a WIMP passing through the crystal. This design hopes to detect vibrations in the crystal matrix generated by an atom being "kicked" by a WIMP. The tungsten transition edge sensors (TES) are held at the critical temperature so they are in the superconducting state. Large crystal vibrations will generate heat in the metal and are detectable because of a change in resistance.
In February 2010, researchers at the Soudan Mine CDMS II experiment announced that they had observed two events that may have been caused by WIMP-nucleus collisions. CoGeNT, a smaller detector using a single germanium puck, designed to sense WIMPs with smaller masses, reported hundreds of detection events in 56 days. Juan Collar, who presented the results to a conference at the University of California, was quoted: "If it's real, we're looking at a very beautiful dark-matter signal" (Other explanations, such as an unexplained radioactive decay process in the electronics, might cause a spurious signal) The experiment estimated the WIMP masses at 7-11 GeV (approximately 10× the mass of a proton), which is at lower limit of detection of the CDMSII experiment.
The Directional Recoil Identification From Tracks (DRIFT) collaboration is attempting to utilize the predicted directionality of the WIMP signal in order to prove the existence of WIMPs. DRIFT detectors use a 1m3 volume of low pressure carbon disulfide gas as a target material. The use of a low pressure gas means that a WIMP colliding with an atom in the target will cause it to recoil several millimetres leaving a track of charged particles in the gas. This charged track is drifted to an MWPC readout plane that allows it to be reconstructed in three dimensions, which can then be used to determine the direction the WIMP came from.
Another way of detecting atoms "knocked about" by a WIMP is to use scintillating material, so that light pulses are generated by the moving atom. Experiments such as DEAP at SNOLAB or WARP at the LNGS plan to instrument a very large target mass of liquid argon for sensitive WIMP searches. Another example of this technique is the DAMA/NaI and DAMA/LIBRA detector in Italy. It uses multiple materials to identify false signals from other light-creating processes. This experiment observed an annual change in the rate of signals in the detector. This annual modulation is one of the predicted signatures of a WIMP signal, and on this basis the DAMA collaboration has claimed a positive detection. Other groups, however, have not confirmed this result. The CDMS and EDELWEISS experiments would be expected to observe a significant number of WIMP-nucleus scatters if the DAMA signal were in fact caused by WIMPs. Since the other experiments do not see these events, the interpretation of the DAMA result as a WIMP detection can be excluded for most WIMP models. It is possible to devise models that reconcile a positive DAMA result with the other negative results, but as the sensitivity of other experiments improves, this becomes more difficult. The CDMS data taken in the Soudan Mine and made public in May 2004 exclude the entire DAMA signal region given certain standard assumptions about the properties of the WIMPs and the dark matter halo.
The PICASSO (Project in Canada to Search for Supersymmetric Objects) experiment is a direct dark matter search experiment that is located at SNOLAB in Canada. It uses bubble detectors with Freon as the active mass. PICASSO is predominantly sensitive to spin-dependent interactions of WIMPs with the fluorine atoms in the Freon.
A bubble detector is a radiation sensitive device that uses small droplets of superheated liquid that are suspended in a gel matrix.SIMPLE.
PICASSO reports results (November 2009) for spin-dependent WIMP interactions on 19F. No dark matter signal has been found, but for WIMP masses of 24 Gev/c2 new stringent limits have been obtained on the spin-dependent cross section for WIMP scattering on 19F of 13.9 pb (90% CL). This result has been converted into a cross section limit for WIMP interactions on protons of 0.16 pb (90% CL). The obtained limits restrict recent interpretations of the DAMA/LIBRA annual modulation effect in terms of spin dependent interactions.
- Massive compact halo object (MACHO)
- Higgs boson
- Micro black hole
- Robust associations of massive baryonic objects (RAMBOs)
- Particle Data Group review article on WIMP search
- Timothy J. Sumner, Experimental Searches for Dark Matter in Living Reviews in Relativity, Vol 5, 2002