From Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: “Quest for source of black hole dark matter”

From Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Aug. 13, 2018
Anne M Stark

LLNL scientists Michael Schneider, Will Dawson, Nathan Golovich and George Chapline look for black holes in the Lab’s telescope remote observing room. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL.

Like a game of “hide and seek,” Lawrence Livermore astrophysicists know that there are black holes hiding in the Milky Way, just not where.

If they find them toward the galactic bulge (a tightly packed group of stars) and the Magellanic Clouds, then black holes as massive as 10,000 times the mass of the sun might make up dark matter. If they are only toward the galactic bulge then they are probably just from a few dead stars.

Typically to observe the Magellanic Clouds, scientists must travel to observatories in the Southern Hemisphere.

Large Magellanic Cloud. Adrian Pingstone December 2003

Small Magellanic Cloud. NASA/ESA Hubble and ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2

Magellanic Bridge ESA Gaia satellite. Image credit V. Belokurov D. Erkal A. Mellinger.

But recently, the LLNL team got a new tool that’s a little closer to home to help them in the search. As part of the Space Science and Security Program and an LDRD project, LLNL has a new telescope remote observing room.

The team is using the observing room to conduct a gravitational microlensing survey of the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds in search of intermediate mass black holes (approximately 10 to 10,000 times the mass of the sun) that may make up the majority of dark matter.

“The remote observing room enables us to control the National Optical Astronomers Observatory Blanco 4-meter telescope located in Chile at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory,” said LLNL principal investigator Will Dawson.

Dark Energy Camera [DECam], built at FNAL

NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam at an altitude of 7200 feet

The team already has conducted its first observing run with the remote observing room.

The visible universe is composed of approximately 70 percent dark energy, 25 percent dark matter and 5 percent normal matter. However, dark matter has remained a mystery since it was first postulated in 1933. The MACHO Survey, led by Lawrence Livermore in the 1990s, sought to test whether dark matter was composed of baryonic massive compact halo objects (MACHOs). The survey concluded that baryonic MACHOs smaller than 10 solar masses could not account for more than 40 percent of the total dark matter mass.

Recently, the discovery of two merging black holes has renewed interest in MACHO dark matter composed of primordial black holes (formed in the early universe, before the first stars) with approximately 10 to 10,000 solar masses. This is an idea first proposed in 1975 by LLNL physicist and project co-investigator George Chapline. The most direct means of exploring this mass range is by searching for the gravitational microlensing signal in existing archival astronomical imaging and carrying out a next-generation microlensing survey with state-of-the-art wide-field optical imagers on telescopes 10 to 25 times more powerful than those used in the original MACHO surveys.

Gravitational microlensing, S. Liebes, Physical Review B, 133 (1964): 835

Microlensing is an astronomical effect predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. According to Einstein, when the light emanating from a star passes very close to another massive object (e.g., black hole) on its way to an observer on Earth, the gravity of the intermediary massive object will slightly bend and focus the light rays from the source star, causing the lensed background star to appear brighter than it normally would.

“We are developing a novel means of microlensing detection that will enable us to detect the parallactic microlensing signature associated with black holes in this mass range,” Dawson said. “We will detect and constrain the fraction of dark matter composed of intermediate mass black holes and measure their mass spectrum in the Milky Way.”

While the scientists are currently using the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in the search, eventually they will achieve even more sensitivity in observing black holes when the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which LLNL has supported for the last two decades, comes online in 2022.


LSST Camera, built at SLAC

LSST telescope, currently under construction on the El Peñón peak at Cerro Pachón Chile, a 2,682-meter-high mountain in Coquimbo Region, in northern Chile, alongside the existing Gemini South and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescopes.

See the full article here .


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LLNL Campus

Operated by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is an American federal research facility in Livermore, California, United States, founded by the University of California, Berkeley in 1952. A Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC), it is primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and managed and operated by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC (LLNS), a partnership of the University of California, Bechtel, BWX Technologies, AECOM, and Battelle Memorial Institute in affiliation with the Texas A&M University System. In 2012, the laboratory had the synthetic chemical element livermorium named after it.

LLNL is self-described as “a premier research and development institution for science and technology applied to national security.”[1] Its principal responsibility is ensuring the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons through the application of advanced science, engineering and technology. The Laboratory also applies its special expertise and multidisciplinary capabilities to preventing the proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction, bolstering homeland security and solving other nationally important problems, including energy and environmental security, basic science and economic competitiveness.

The Laboratory is located on a one-square-mile (2.6 km2) site at the eastern edge of Livermore. It also operates a 7,000 acres (28 km2) remote experimental test site, called Site 300, situated about 15 miles (24 km) southeast of the main lab site. LLNL has an annual budget of about $1.5 billion and a staff of roughly 5,800 employees.

LLNL was established in 1952 as the University of California Radiation Laboratory at Livermore, an offshoot of the existing UC Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley. It was intended to spur innovation and provide competition to the nuclear weapon design laboratory at Los Alamos in New Mexico, home of the Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic weapons. Edward Teller and Ernest Lawrence,[2] director of the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley, are regarded as the co-founders of the Livermore facility.

The new laboratory was sited at a former naval air station of World War II. It was already home to several UC Radiation Laboratory projects that were too large for its location in the Berkeley Hills above the UC campus, including one of the first experiments in the magnetic approach to confined thermonuclear reactions (i.e. fusion). About half an hour southeast of Berkeley, the Livermore site provided much greater security for classified projects than an urban university campus.

Lawrence tapped 32-year-old Herbert York, a former graduate student of his, to run Livermore. Under York, the Lab had four main programs: Project Sherwood (the magnetic-fusion program), Project Whitney (the weapons-design program), diagnostic weapon experiments (both for the Los Alamos and Livermore laboratories), and a basic physics program. York and the new lab embraced the Lawrence “big science” approach, tackling challenging projects with physicists, chemists, engineers, and computational scientists working together in multidisciplinary teams. Lawrence died in August 1958 and shortly after, the university’s board of regents named both laboratories for him, as the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory.

Historically, the Berkeley and Livermore laboratories have had very close relationships on research projects, business operations, and staff. The Livermore Lab was established initially as a branch of the Berkeley laboratory. The Livermore lab was not officially severed administratively from the Berkeley lab until 1971. To this day, in official planning documents and records, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is designated as Site 100, Lawrence Livermore National Lab as Site 200, and LLNL’s remote test location as Site 300.[3]

The laboratory was renamed Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (LLL) in 1971. On October 1, 2007 LLNS assumed management of LLNL from the University of California, which had exclusively managed and operated the Laboratory since its inception 55 years before. The laboratory was honored in 2012 by having the synthetic chemical element livermorium named after it. The LLNS takeover of the laboratory has been controversial. In May 2013, an Alameda County jury awarded over $2.7 million to five former laboratory employees who were among 430 employees LLNS laid off during 2008.[4] The jury found that LLNS breached a contractual obligation to terminate the employees only for “reasonable cause.”[5] The five plaintiffs also have pending age discrimination claims against LLNS, which will be heard by a different jury in a separate trial.[6] There are 125 co-plaintiffs awaiting trial on similar claims against LLNS.[7] The May 2008 layoff was the first layoff at the laboratory in nearly 40 years.[6]

On March 14, 2011, the City of Livermore officially expanded the city’s boundaries to annex LLNL and move it within the city limits. The unanimous vote by the Livermore city council expanded Livermore’s southeastern boundaries to cover 15 land parcels covering 1,057 acres (4.28 km2) that comprise the LLNL site. The site was formerly an unincorporated area of Alameda County. The LLNL campus continues to be owned by the federal government.


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