A direct search for realms of the universe made entirely of antimatter has begun, with the installation of a $2 billion cosmic ray detector on the International Space Station. The instrument has been detecting cosmic rays for a day and appears to be “working perfectly,” its principal investigator tells Nature. “We’ve collected thousands of events so far,” says Samuel Ting, a Nobel Prize winning physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and spokesman for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.
Mark Sistilli, program manager for AMS at NASA, clarifies that means thousands of events per second, so that the total number of cosmic rays detected since yesterday is an amazing 50 million, he says. “The science task ahead is to sift through those incidents,” and work out which events are interesting, he says.
Ting’s brainchild, the mission has several more mainstream goals beyond the controversial one of detecting antimatter nuclei coming from hypothesized distant regions of the universe made entirely of antistars and antigalaxies. They include making a detailed map of the sources of cosmic rays, which include supernovae and black holes, and chasing a possible signature of dark matter.
Asked how he feels now that the mission is in space, Ting says he’s going to be looking carefully at the data. “From now on to the next 20 years we have a lot of physics to do,” he says.
Image: AMS installed on the International Space Station / NASA
Corrected 2.15pm: the length of time AMS has been sending back data was corrected from 5 hours to one day.