NASA held a news conference to detail the first findings of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2 (AMS-2) that was delivered to the International Space Station in 2011 on the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-134. Participants at the conference included NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier, AMS’ Principal Investigator Samuel Ting, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science Program Manager for AMS Michael Salamon, and NASA AMS Program Manager Mark Sistilli.
Ting made his comments via a video link from Cern in Switzerland. He thanked NASA for their efforts to make this experiment a success before he went into what AMS’ first results had shown. His comments suggest that AMS-2 has detected a positron “dropoff” that suggests impacts from dark matter. He made sure to caution, however, that these findings are preliminary.
While the first results from the AMS-2 suggest that dark matter could be a real player in the galactic arena, one other possible explanation for the data is that pulsars could be behind the observations AMS has made.
“I think in the next year or so, we will know much better,” Ting added. “We’d rather take our time and make sure that what we’re seeing isn’t due to statistical fluctuations.”
Video courtesy of NASA
Ting was pressed as to whether the data pointed to dark matter or pulsars as the “dropoff” seen in the information. He reiterated that he was unwilling to nail down which of the two was the likely culprit.
Ting did say that if the positrons detected were from pulsars, they tend to originate from a fixed, central location. This is not what AMS has detected. Rather, the positrons are coming from all directions, which suggests, but does not prove, that the source of these positrons is dark matter.
AMS was developed, built, and operated by an international team comprised of some 56 different organizations. These are managed by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science sponsorship. NASA’s Johnson Space Center, located in Houston, Texas, manages the AMS Integration Project Office.
Video courtesy of NASA
AMS is a state-of-the-art cosmic ray particle physics detector, which was placed on the space station’s truss after being launched May 16, 2011. AMS is being used to seek out dark matter and other exotic materials that comprise our universe.
Ting and others expressed their joy that even after the AMS experiment was cancelled in 2005, the experiment’s supporters continued to work to have AMS flown—eventually succeeding. The experiment is estimated to have cost some $2 billion.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the important thing is AMS is there now and that it will be collecting data for the lifetime of the space station. With its unprecedented accuracy and sensitivity, we will explore a region that no one has explored before,” Ting concluded.
For NASA, the findings only serve to validate the space agency’s efforts. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden detailed how he viewed AMS’ efforts.
“For more than 50 years, NASA has pushed the boundaries beyond Earth to unveil the underlying architecture of the cosmos, revealing new knowledge about our place within it. The International Space Station is a gateway to the universe, teaching us how humans can live, work, and thrive in space as we endeavor to venture deeper into the solar system. It’s a remarkable testament that the orbital laboratory could play such an important supporting role in research at the very smallest scale of the physical universe. It’s proof positive the space station is humanity’s greatest achievement in low-Earth orbit,” Bolden said.