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LUX dark matter detector

Detecting dark matter

The kind of matter and energy we can see and touch – whether it is in the form of atoms and molecules, or heat and light, only forms a tiny proportion of the content of the Universe, only about 5%. Over a quarter is dark matter, which is totally invisible but whose gravitational attraction can be detected; while over two thirds is dark energy, a force that pushes the Universe to expand ever faster.
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Agate

28 August 2013

Agate in UCL Rock Room. Credit: UCL Museums & Collections

This sample from UCL's geology collections, is a fine example of agate, a curious mineral which forms mainly in ancient volcanic lava flows.

Over long periods of time, water with traces of silica in it flows through cracks, voids or bubbles in a lava flow, leaving behind a thin deposit. Gradually, like limescale building up in a kettle, the silica forms layers inside the bubble. From the outside, agates look like very ordinary rocks, but cutting them open reveals layer upon layer of deposited silica.

Agate in UCL Rock Room. Credit: UCL Museums & Collections

Different impurities in the silica lead to bands of different colours forming in the agate. The first two specimens shown here have simple rings of dark brown and white, but the colours can vary enormously, as seen in a third specimen below.

Agate in UCL Rock Room. Credit: UCL Museums & Collections

In these samples, the silica has entirely filled the cavity, but some specimens still have a hole in the centre.

As silica is very hard — it is the same chemical as quartz, glass and sand — the resulting rocks are very durable, and survive even after the lava flow they formed in has eroded away.

UCL has a large collection of geology specimens, the oldest of which date back to 1855. Used mainly for teaching by the Earth Sciences department, they are also displayed to the public in the Rock Room between 1pm and 3pm every Friday.

Photo credit: UCL Geology Collections

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Page last modified on 20 aug 13 14:29