From the beginning of life to the origin of the universe


This news is based on a press release of Bergische Universität Wuppertal

Does life exist only on earth? How did the universe we live in come into being? And what holds matter together at its core? Researchers at the Bergische Universität Wuppertal are getting to the bottom of these questions using various large-scale experiments. The astroparticle physicists receive funding for their research from the Federal Ministry of Science and Research, the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy, represented by the project management organizations DLR and PT-DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron), and the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung.

For their projects, the Wuppertal researchers, led by astroparticle physicists Professor Dr. Karl-Heinz Kampert and Professor Dr. Klaus Helbing, will get a total of around two million euros in funding. Several major projects are associated with this.

A mission to the outer solar system will investigate whether life has developed there. As part of a project initiated by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), researchers at the University of Wuppertal are developing new techniques for radar-based navigation in the ice. These methods are to be used on a possible mission to the icy moon Europa.

In the galaxy beyond our solar system, supernovae, i.e. massive stars, play an important role in the origin of the chemical elements that make life possible for us. Which forces are present and how does matter behave under extreme conditions, existing for example inside neutron stars? The researchers involved in the CBM experiment are investigating these questions. The experiment for Compressed Baryonic Matter (CBM) is currently being realized within the FAIR project. It is one of the four major research pillars of the future accelerator center FAIR, which is being built at the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt. This will enable researchers to study processes in neutron stars with unprecedented precision and over a very wide range of densities.

Another project deals with high-energy particles from huge galaxies far away from the Milky Way. How do they reach these extreme energies and how do they get to Earth over millions of years through the extra-galactic magnetic fields? To gain new insights, the various particles are measured with the Pierre Auger Observatory on Earth and compared with cosmological simulations. The detection of photons that travel these huge distances also provides important information on the space-time structure. 

Our present universe consists mainly of matter and not of antimatter. The reasons for this dominance are still completely unknown. A key to understanding this could be the so-called "ghost particle" neutrino. The KATRIN experiment (KArlsruhe TRItium Neutrino Experiment) aims to determine the mass of the neutrino, which could be a key to this mystery. Particles that interact with the neutrinos as so-called "dark matter" could also be detected in this framework. 

The neutrino has also been used in astronomy and cosmology for several years. With the IceCube telescope, located directly at the South Pole in Antarctica, Wuppertal researchers are looking for particles that are thought to have been emitted shortly after the Big Bang. From their characteristics, the processes during the formation of the universe can be reconstructed. Work is currently underway on an upgrade for this particle detector. The Wuppertal scientists are working with international colleagues to develop new sensors for this purpose. (BUW/BP)