'Dark' investments

February 26, 1999

A British experiment to detect the mysterious "dark" matter that pervades the universe gained another four year's funding this week. The other big winner was a space mission to study the earliest echoes of the Big Bang.

The dark matter experiment at Boulby mine in Yorkshire aims to discover the nature of the mysterious matter that accounts for about 90 per cent of the mass of the universe. The experiment received Pounds 5.2 million at this week's meeting of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

Although the experiment made a breakthrough last year, a rival experiment in Italy also detected a signal and the two groups are now racing to become the first with a definite result. "The UK group has better ideas than the Italian group, but to stay competitive, we need better detectors," said David Miller of University College London, who reviewed the experiment and recommended more funding.

The Planck/FIRST mission, due for launch in 2005, received Pounds 23.5 million. The mission, a collaboration between the European Space Agency and the United States, has two main objectives - to survey the earliest echoes of the Big Bang and to observe the universe at shorter wavelengths to see how galaxies have formed throughout the history of the universe.

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