The Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics (FCPA) coordinates the lab’s diverse cosmic research program. This site is intended to provide regular updates on FCPA research and activities.
Cosmic Frontier Experiments at Fermilab
The mission of the High Energy Physics program is to understand how our universe works at its most fundamental level. We do this by discovering the most elementary constituents of matter and energy, exploring the basic nature of space and time itself, and probing the interactions between them.
— Mission Statement, DOE Office of High Energy Physics
Fermilab’s main mission is fundamental physics, and the experiments that led to the Standard Model have mainly used the accelerators that are Fermilab’s signature technology. In addition, Fermilab performs experiments on the “Cosmic Frontier” that use the extremes of the cosmos to probe physical effects in regimes not accessible with laboratory accelerators, including gravity, new forces and particles. Fermilab theorists also develop the connection between these experiments and our understanding of how the universe works.
Fermilab’s Cosmic Frontier experiments share many science goals and experimental techniques with accelerator-based experiments, but seek new physics in complementary ways. The program covers all physical scales of space, time and mass where new physics might appear. Some new kinds of particles may be too massive or elusive to create in colliders, but may survive in detectable numbers from the early universe, or from natural cosmic accelerators. Some new physics, such as exotic interactions of gravity, cannot be studied in microscopic particle interactions, because they are so weak that they only dominate other forces in large assemblies of mass and volumes of space afforded in cosmic systems. New quantum physics of space and time on the smallest scales may create coherent macroscopic correlations not detectable in localized, microscopic particle interactions. The cosmos provides us with measurable particles or observable effects created in more extreme environments, higher energies and temperatures than can ever be created in a laboratory.
The entire expanding universe is a unique apparatus, ideally suited to explore some of the deepest mysteries of physics. The evolution of large-scale structure in the cosmos is dominated by the gravity of dark matter and dark energy, and it is detectably influenced by the gravity of neutrinos. These cosmic constituents experience far more extreme conditions than any material we can create on earth, even in the largest accelerators. Moreover, the cosmos is so simple on large scales that it can be measured and modeled with high precision: the structure and evolution tightly connects observable phenomena on all scales of space and time.