A U.S. team of researchers hunting for dark matter in a former gold mine in South Dakota, said Wednesday that the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment has proven itself to be the most sensitive dark matter detector ever created.

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LUX researchers, seen here in a clean room on the surface at the Sanford Lab, work on  the detector, before it is inserted into its titanium cryostat

Announcing the first results from the test’s initial 90-day run during a seminar at the Sanford Lab in Lead, S.D., the team said they have obtained results that are “the first physics outcomes achieved since the Ray Davis solar neutrino experiment, which earned him a Nobel Prize for Physics.”

“LUX is blazing the path to illuminate the nature of dark matter,” said Brown University physicist Rick Gaitskell, co-spokesperson for LUX with physicist Dan McKinsey of Yale University.

The scientists have been working at the one-of-a-kind laboratory located at the bottom of what was once North America’s deepest gold mine, hoping to find more definitive evidence of the mysterious substance estimated to make up as much as 85% of the universe’s total matter.

“This is only the beginning for LUX,” said team leader Dan McKinsey. “Now that we understand the instrument and its backgrounds, we will continue to take data, testing for more and more elusive candidates for dark matter.”

Less than 15% of the universe is made up of conventional matter — protons, neutrons, and electrons. Most of the rest is thought to be dark matter, which cannot be seen or felt, and seems to interact weakly, if at all, with conventional matter. (Hence the nickname for dark matter particles — WIMPs, or weakly interacting massive particles.) Identifying the raw material of the universe is a high priority for physicists and astronomers.

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