What is Astroparticle Physics?

For all the discoveries we have made, all the technologies that have allowed us to learn more about the universe, there are still mysteries we do not understand.

Astroparticle physics looks at the most basic building blocks in nature to learn more about how they work. By studying particles from the universe, scientists can learn more about how it was formed and, hopefully, start to answer big questions. Read more

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Two students hard at work in the NEWS-G experiment laboratory.
Group photo of some of the NEWS-G team before descending into SNOLAB at the Creighton Min in Sudbury, Ontario.
Two researchers mount a photomultiplier tube on the DEAP-3600 experiment 2km underground in the SNOLAB clean room facility.
Screen shot of participants in the NEWS-G 8th collaboration meeting in June 2020

Something strange is happening in the universe. There are still phenomena we can’t explain. Every time we learn something new and look further back in the history of the universe, more questions arise.

What is dark matter? Why did the big bang create more matter than antimatter, allowing the universe to form? What is the nature of neutrinos? Does the Standard Model accurately describe the universe, or do we need a new model?

Astroparticle physics is a relatively new field of science, bringing together lab experiments, astronomical observations, theoretical physics, and computational physics. By using approaches from these different areas, astroparticle physicists can combine knowledge in new ways and gain a different perspective on the mysteries of our universe. Canada has already established itself as a global leader in astroparticle physics, and our Canadian Astroparticle Physics Community brings together research groups in different disciplines to create a collaborative environment for future growth and leadership.

Pairing researchers working in experiment, theory, and computing enables the Astroparticle Physics community to detect astrophysical particles. These particles are pieces of the puzzle for understanding the fundamental laws and structure of our universe. Particle detections are made using equipment designed, constructed, and operated across Canada and internationally.

The hallmarks of astroparticle physics are detecting the tiny subatomic neutrino and elusive dark matter particles. Detectors operating in clean rooms far underground are the best approach to catching a glimpse of these fundamental particles.

The Standard Model, which streamlined our understanding of the physics forces that govern the universe, was developed in the 1960s and has remained largely the same since then. In the past decade, however, advances in particle physics, cosmology, and astroparticle physics have helped us better understand what we still have to learn. Some of these discoveries, like dark matter and the quantum nature of gravity, don’t fit within the Standard Model. Although experiments at particle accelerators have confirmed the Standard Model’s predictions to be accurate, most physicists now believe there are some areas of physics it cannot explain that we still do not understand.

Astroparticle physics is a way of exploring these new physics, and it has been successful in observing physics outside the Standard Model in the form of measuring neutrino oscillations (the changes that the tiniest particles in the universe undergo as they travel through space).

Key scientific goals of the Canadian Astroparticle Physics Community include:

  • Observation of dark matter particles. Astrophysics and cosmology present a number of questions that may require physics beyond the Standard Model. Chief among these is the presence of nonluminous dark matter, which explains the rotation of galaxies and the motions of galaxies within clusters.
  • Observation of neutrinoless double beta decay. This would shed light on whether the neutrino is its own antiparticle, and the rate of decay would provide insight on the neutrino mass.

…with more on the horizon.