dark matter
Little is known about dark matter because it can't be seen, it's only detected due to the fact that is has a gravitational pull on its surroundings. NASA

China launched the Dark Matter Particle Explorer, or DAMPE, in 2015 in the hopes of learning more about dark matter. The satellite observes high volumes of cosmic rays and tracks where they come from in the search for dark matter.

DAMPE is similar to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the International Space Station, but far more powerful. When it was launched researchers weren’t even sure if it was the right way to search for black matter because it had never been directly observed before, according to an article in Nature.

The recent discovery was still not of dark matter, but it hints that the researchers monitoring the data coming from DAMPE are getting closer. DAMPE was able to monitor high-energy cosmic rays in an energy range that had not previously been observed directly. This observation led researchers to the finding that there is a spectral break at .9 TeV and a spike around 1.4 TeV, or trillion electron volts.

The spike at 1.4 TeV is what’s of interest to researchers. The deputy chief designer of the scientific application system DAMPE runs on called the spike “very unusual.” The spike might mean there’s a type of particle out there that has a mass of 1.4 TeV causing the spike, but researchers still aren’t sure. The plan is to keep monitoring for any spikes occurring in that particular range of TeV.

The satellite was originally expected to have a lifespan of about three years, but it’s been working so well and there have been so few issues with it researchers now expect it to last about five years instead. By the end of those five years in space, it will have had the time to capture about 10 billion cosmic ray events offering the researchers plenty of data to sift through in the search for information about dark matter.

What is dark matter?

Dark matter is not well understood by scientists and researchers. As NASA puts it on their website, more is known about what dark matter is not than about what it is. It’s not part of dark energy or normal matter in the universe, rather it’s part of its own category of matter that makes up neither the stars or the planets that are visible to us. They also know that dark matter isn’t the same as antimatter and that it’s not simply dark clouds of normal matter either. Other than that there’s no clear consensus on what exactly dark matter is, which is part of the reason it can be so difficult to study or track down. When it is detected it's because it has a gravitational influence on its surroundings.