Deposits of near-pure argon have been left undisturbed since the formation of the Earth is about to help physicists understand more about the universe.
Project Urania, led by Andrew Renshaw, associate professor of physics at the University of Houston in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, will oversee the installation and commissioning of an industrial structure in southwestern Colorado. Meanwhile in Sardinia, Italy, researchers will design and build a specialized processing plant that will be shipped to Colorado.
Inside the combined facility – the processing plant built in Italy and the exoskeleton built on site by Project Urania (named after the Museum of Greek Astronomy) – argon It will be extracted, purified and shipped to Laboratorio Nazionale Gran Sasso (LNGS) in Italy. There, it will be used to search for answers to some of the biggest mysteries posed by the universe.
But before the team can peer out among the stars, they must first reach deep into the earth.
To be precise: They must ensure that argon is extracted and processed at a natural gas drilling site in southwest Colorado operated by Kinder Morgan, a Houston-based drilling and pipeline company.
“Our facility will be a side function of Kinder Morgan’s Doe Canyon facility, which is already withdrawing CO22 (satiate) of the Earth’s mantle as part of natural gas mining,” Renshaw said.
Exists in CO2 The flow coming from Kinder Morgan’s deep underground wells is a small amount of low radioactive argon, which becomes a by-product in their natural gas production but is a tool we can use. This is interesting because low radioactivity argon can be a key source for our research, as it is a very good element to use within a low background particle detector. “
Ultimately, the argon is separated from the carbon dioxide at the Kinder Morgan site, then shipped in high-pressure cylinders specifically designed for this project, to Sardinia, where it will be further processed and finally shipped to LNGS for inclusion in the underground detector, which It’s called Dark Side – 20K.
“Once argon is liquefied, it can be used at the LNGS research site to detect particles according to how they interact with liquid argon,” Renshaw said. Through these studies, the team hopes to gather evidence of dark matter in the universe and gain the ability to detect neutrinos from astrophysical sources.
Argon (abbreviated as Argon)—colorless, odorless, tasteless—is listed on the far right side of the periodic table with the other five “noble gases” (signifying that they are inert, or nearly chemically unreactive). Being one of the most common earth elements, argon is found almost everywhere. Scientists can easily harvest it from the atmosphere.
So why is this argon specific in Colorado so important to the Urania project and the DarkSide‑20k experiment in Italy?
“Because it contains nearly 100% argon-40, it’s been protected deep within the Earth since Earth formed,” Renshaw explained.
“During the same period of time, argon in the atmosphere was constantly bombarded cosmic rays, and loaded with argon-39, which then decays by beta emission and can block the signals of the DarkSide‑20k particle detector. This means that argon extracted from deep underground in Colorado will allow the DarkSide‑20k to be filled with nearly 100% pure argon-40, significantly reducing the detector’s overall background rate and allowing several sensitivity studies to be performed. “
What the researchers hope to reveal with the DarkSide‑20k particle detector (expected to operate for ten years, starting in 2025), are signs of dark matter In the universe – what it is, how it behaves and why it exists. In other words, they hope to shed light on one of the darkest mysteries of the universe.
University of Houston
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