Researchers from the XENON1T dark-matter experiment at Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy reported their first results at the 13th Patras Workshop on Axions, WIMPs and WISPs, held in Thessaloniki from 15–19 May (see "Exploring axions and WIMPs in Greece" in Faces & Places). XENON1T is the first tonne-scale detector of its kind and is designed to search for WIMP dark matter by measuring nuclear recoils from WIMP–nucleus scattering. Continuing the programme of the previous XENON10 and XENON100 detectors, the new apparatus contains 3200 kg of ultra-pure liquid xenon (LXe) – 20 times more than its predecessor – in a dual-phase xenon time projection chamber (TPC) to detect nuclear recoils. The TPC encloses about 2000 kg of LXe, while another 1200 kg provides additional shielding.

The experiment started collecting data in November 2016. A blind search based on 34.2 live days of data acquired until January 2017, when earthquakes in the region temporarily suspended the run, revealed the data to be consistent with the background-only hypothesis. This allowed the collaboration to derive the most stringent exclusion limits on the spin-independent WIMP–nucleon interaction cross-section for WIMP masses above 10 GeV/c2, with a minimum of 7.7 × 10–47 cm2 for 35 GeV/c2 WIMPs at 90% confidence level.

These first results demonstrate that XENON1T has the lowest low-energy background level ever achieved by a dark-matter experiment, with the intrinsic background from krypton and radon reduced to unprecedented low levels. The sensitivity of XENON1T will continue to improve as the experiment records data until the end of 2018, when the collaboration plans to upgrade to a larger TPC due to come online by 2019. Several other experiments, such as PANDA-X and LUX-ZEPLIN, are also competing for the first WIMP detection.

“With our experiment working so beautifully, even exceeding our expectations, it is really exciting to have data in hand to further explore one of the most exciting secrets we have in physics: the nature of dark matter,” says XENON spokesperson Elena Aprile of Columbia University in the US.