Dark matter is that pesky, hidden material that keeps foiling scientists' efforts to come up with a grand unified theory of physics. China's space agency has set about to find it with the launch of DAMPE, the Dark Matter Particle Explorer. It successfully made it into a 500 km (300 mile) high geosynchronous orbit aboard a Long March-2D launch vehicle. The DAMPE satellite is essentially a powerful space telescope tuned for the detection of high-energy gamma rays, electrons and cosmic rays. Once ready, it'll peer into corners of space where scientists believe dark matter lurks.
Astronomers aren't even exactly sure what dark matter is, but the dominant theory is that it's made up of weakly interacting particles (WIMPs). While difficult to detect in space because they don't emit light, they should annihilate into high-energy gamma rays or charged particles that do. Since DAMPE is now the highest-resolution dark matter probe in space, it's well-poised to detect such particles. "DAMPE will measure the spectra of gamma-rays and cosmic rays with very high energy resolution and then look for possible signals of dark matter annihilation or decay," says mission team member Professor Fan Yizhong. It could, however, take years for the probe to turn up any signs of the unicorn-like particles.