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China’s dark matter satellite has sent back its first batch of data

Earlier this month, China launched its Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) into space, and it’s already starting to send back data. Developed by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, alongside researchers from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare in Italy and the University of Geneva in Switzerland, the satellite has beamed back its first batch of information to confirm that it’s fully operational, which means it’s now beginning its three-year mission to gather notoriously elusive data on dark matter.

China’s Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) has returned its first data to ground stations. Initial assessments indicate everything is working correctly and the spacecraft is now ready to begin a three-year mission. DAMPE, which is also known as Wukong, after the monkey king in the Chinese fairytale Journey to the West, blasted off on 17 December from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu province. Carried on a Long March 2D booster, the spacecraft was placed in a 500km-altitude orbit. Dark Matter is thought to account for most of the mass in the universe, outweighing atoms by about six times. It gives rise to the otherwise unaccountably fast rotation rates of most galaxies in the universe. However, scientists have yet to detect a single particle of the stuff. They are unsure of its exact nature but calculations suggest that it will be incredibly unreactive and so difficult to detect. DAMPE will therefore look for gamma rays, electrons and high-energy cosmic rays, all of which could hold clues about the nature of dark matter. A similar detector, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, is attached to the International Space Station.

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