This week, the Sanford Lab dedicated an underground science fortress to research dark matter. The lab is 5,000 feet underground in the mountains of South Dakota, shielded from cosmic radiation.
The lab is on a site that used to do physics research, and was a gold mine before that. The current Sanford Lab, in collaboration with the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), is the deepest underground lab in the world. It's divided into three levels: the shallow lab, the mid-level, and the deep campus. The deep campus is 6 and a half Empire State Buildings deep, or around 8,000 feet.
Experiments are already underway at the 5,000 foot level, but the lab intends to run its dark matter experiments as deep as possible in a lab called the Xenon detector experiment, or LUX. Doing the experiments deep inside the earth isn't just a demonstration in mad science; it's also a way to keep out interfering cosmic radiation.
The effects of dark matter in these experiments are so minuscule that any interfering radiation could throw off any experiments done at ground level. To get any real data, these experiments require a lot of shielding. Thousands of feet of earth should do the job just fine.
This $550 million project should be up and running by 2016. And soon after, it'll probably make it's SyFy channel debut as the site of a big-budget underground disaster movie!
(Top image: a 3D map of the universe's dark matter, from NASA, ESA and R. Massey. Bottom image: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation)