JADUGUDA, JHARKHAND: Indian physicists have finally got a laboratory deep underground — almost half-a-kilometre below the earth’s surface – to hunt for “dark matter”, the elusive glue that holds galaxies together. A form of energy and matter, it has evaded detection so far.
To search for dark matter, scientists need to dive deep underground, so their experiments are shielded from intruders like cosmic rays and other radiations. The rock overhead is expected to absorb these unwelcome rays that interfere with the experiments.
Scientists from Kolkata’s Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics are spearheading the group manning the new laboratory, which was inaugurated three days ago.
The lab is located in an abandoned cavern of a deep underground uranium mine located at Jharkhand’s Jadugoda, nearly 260 km from Kolkata and 150 km from state capital Ranchi.
This is India’s first uranium mine, from which, till recently, around 400 tonnes of uranium was being extracted. Today, the uranium is being extracted from a layer 880 meters below the earth’s surface. The laboratory is located 555 meters underground, on a layer above the mine. It was set up at a cost of a mere Rs. 20 lakh.
“There was an almost ready made cavern available which has been converted into an underground laboratory,” said Satyajit Saha, lead researcher for the project at SINP.
The entry to the lab is located within a highly secure zone of the complex owned by Uranium Corporation of India. A lift takes one into the womb of the earth. It takes three minutes to reach the innards of this uranium mine, from where the lab is a short walk.
Dark matter is called the celestial glue that binds together the entire universe. But there has been no physical evidence of this yet.
The matter visible to the eye comprises only 4.6 % of all existing matter. Of the rest, a vast amount — 24% — is called dark matter that never been seen and the remaining 71.4% is considered dark energy.
But scientists hope the new lab will help unravel the mystery. India’s nuclear chief Dr Sekhar Basu, who inaugurated the facility on September 2, told NDTV, “Tomorrow, we may know of different types of planets made up of dark matter, different types of life forms… there is enormous potential for enhancing knowledge.”
Jadugoda is India’s second foray in underground lab experiments. In 1992, a similar facility in Karnataka’s Kolar gold field was shut down after the mine got flooded due to disuse. For four decades, the facility, located 2.3 km underground had conducted some path-breaking experiments. It was there Indian scientists were credited to have discovered the first atmospheric neutrinos.
“Twenty five years later, India has another underground research facility, albeit not very deep. But at least it is very our own,” said SINP scientist Naba Mondal, who worked at the Kolar facility for more than a decade.