Layout of full GAPS experiment.
Philip von Doetinchem

Philip von Doetinchem, a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa physics assistant professor, is part of a team working on the design of a next-generation cosmic-ray balloon antiparticle experiment called General AntiParticle Spectrometer (GAPS). This fall, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration selected the experiment for funding and awarded the project $487,259 for the next five years.

The GAPS team includes researchers from Columbia University; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Los Angeles; Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The creation of cosmic rays

Cosmic rays are created in very energetic events in our galaxy, such as Supernova explosions, and include familiar particles such as electrons and protons. However, antimatter particles including much rarer species such as positrons (antielectrons) or antiprotons can also be created in other processes.

The search for cosmic-ray antideuterons goes even further as they are believed to make up only one out of 10 billion protons. Antideuterons, a bound state of antiprotons and antineutrons, are a particularly promising approach to shed some light on the nature of the mysterious dark matter in the universe. Dark matter is more than five times more abundant than the matter that the solar system and stars are made of, but its exact nature is unknown.

GAPS goals

GAPS is forecast to find low-energy cosmic-ray antideuterons with a novel detection approach through the creation of exotic atoms. GAPS is designed to achieve its goals via a series of long duration balloon flights from Antarctica.

The next four years will be used to design, construct and test the payload before the first flight at the end of 2020. The University of Hawaiʻi group will coordinate the simulation tools and analysis pipeline development as well as qualify and calibrate half of the individual tracker detector modules.

—By Tony Hall