ESA astronaut to launch on dark matter mission
26 April 2011
Look around. It seems obvious that everything is made of solids, liquids and gases. However, your eyes are being deceived. Most of the Universe is not made of ordinary matter. Instead, it seems to largely consist of mysterious dark matter and even more mysterious dark energy. In order to learn more about this invisible Universe, a powerful new instrument, known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02), is about to be delivered to the International Space Station (ISS).
The AMS-02 will be carried to the Station in late April, during the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour. Also on board will be ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori and five companions. Roberto is the first ESA astronaut to fly three times to the Station. He will also be the last European - and last non-American – to fly on the Shuttle.
One of his tasks will be to use Endeavour's robotic arm to lift the AMS-02 particle detector from the cargo bay and attach it to the ISS. The seven tonne instrument will operate for at least three years. It will measure what happens when high-energy particles, known as cosmic rays, arrive from distant galaxies. Any strange particles created by the impacts of these cosmic rays may provide evidence that antimatter or dark matter exist.
Equal amounts of matter and antimatter are believed to have been created during the Big Bang, but antimatter seems to have disappeared from today’s Universe. Dark matter is thought to be far more common than ordinary matter, but it has not yet been detected directly. The name 'DAMA', given to Roberto Vittori's mission, reflects this dark matter search.