The International Axion Observatory (IAXO)

The International Axion Observatory (IAXO)


The International Axion Observatory (IAXO) is a new generation axion helioscope aiming at a sensitivity to the axion-photon coupling of  GeV, i.e. 1–1.5 orders of magnitude beyond the one currently achieved by CAST. The project relies on improvements in magnetic field volume together with extensive use of x-ray focusing optics and low background detectors, innovations already successfully tested in CAST. Additional physics cases of IAXO could include the detection of electron-coupled axions invoked to explain the white dwarf cooling, relic axions, and a large variety of more generic axion-like particles (ALPs) and other novel excitations at the low-energy frontier of elementary particle physics. This contribution is a summary of our recent paper [1].




DESY-PROC-2011-04 \acronymPatras 2011 \doi

1 Introduction

The Peccei-Quinn (PQ) mechanism of dynamical symmetry restoration [2, 3] stands out as the most compelling solution of the strong CP problem. Central to the PQ mechanism is the axion [4, 5], the Nambu-Goldstone boson of a new spontaneously broken symmetry U(1). The properties of axions allow them to be produced in the early universe as coherent field oscillations and as such to provide all or part of the cold dark matter [6, 7].

It is still possible to find these “invisible axions” in realistic search experiments and in this way test a fundamental aspect of QCD. The generic vertex allows for axion-photon conversion in external electric or magnetic fields in analogy to the Primakoff effect for neutral pions. As shown in 1983 by Pierre Sikivie, the smallness of the axion mass allows this conversion to take place coherently over macroscopic distances, compensating for the smallness of the interaction strength [8]. Especially promising is to use the Sun as a source for axions produced in its interior by the Primakoff effect. Directing a strong dipole magnet toward the Sun allows one to search for keV-range x-rays produced by axion-photon conversion, a process best visualized as a particle oscillation phenomenon [9] in analogy to neutrino flavor oscillations. Three such helioscopes have been built, in Brookhaven [10], Tokyo [11] and at CERN [12]. The CERN Axion Solar Telescope (CAST) has just finished a 8-year long data taking period, having strongly improved on previous experiments and even surpassed astrophysical limits in some range of parameters, although axions have not been found.

We have shown [1] that large improvements in magnetic field volume, x-ray focusing optics and detector backgrounds with respect to CAST are possible. Based on these improvements, and on the experience gathered within CAST, we propose the International Axion Observatory (IAXO), a new generation axion helioscope. IAXO could search for axions that are 1–1.5 orders of magnitude more weakly interacting that those allowed by current CAST constraints. It appears conceivable to surpass the SN 1987A constraint on the axion mass, –20 meV, test the white-dwarf (WD) cooling hypothesis [13], and explore a substantial part of uncharted axion territory experimentally. Moreover, IAXO would explore other more generic models of weakly interacting sub-eV particles (WISPs) [15], in particular some ALPs models that have been invoked in the context of several unexplained astrophysical observations. Equipped with microwave cavities, this setup could also aim at detecting relic axions [16].

2 Experimental setup and expected sensitivity

IAXO will follow the basic conceptual layout of an enhanced axion helioscope seen in figure 1, which shows a toroidal design for the magnet, together with X-ray optics and detectors attached to each of the magnet bores. The improvements anticipated for each of the experimental parameters of the helioscope were quantified in [1], organized in four scenarios (IAXO 1 to 4) ranging from most conservative to most optimistic values (see table 1 of [1]). These values are justified by several considerations on the magnet, x-ray optics and detectors, that are briefly outlined in the following, but we refer to [1] for a detailed discussion.

Figure 1: Possible conceptual arrangement for IAXO. On the left we show the cross section of the IAXO toroidal magnet, in this example with six coils and bores. On the right the longitudinal section with the magnet, the optics attached to each magnet bore and the x-ray detectors.

The magnet parameters are the ones contributing mostly to the helioscope’s figure of merit. The CAST success has relied, to a large extent, on the availability of the first class LHC test magnet which was recycled to become part of the CAST helioscope. While going beyond CAST magnet’s or is difficult, the improvement may come however in the cross section area, which in the case of the CAST magnet is only  m. Substantially larger cross sections can be achieved, although one needs a different magnet configuration. It is an essential part of our proposal that a new magnet must be designed and built specifically for this application, if one aims at a substantial step forward in sensitivity. A toroidal configuration for the IAXO magnet is being studied with a total cross section area of up to few m, while keeping the product of close to levels achieved for CAST.

Another area for improvement will be the x-ray optics. Although CAST has proven the concept, only one of the four CAST magnet bores is equipped with optics. The use of focusing power in the entire magnet cross section is implicit in the figures of merit defined in [1], and therefore the improvement obtained by enlarging comes in part because a correspondingly large optic is coupled to the magnet. Here the challenge is not so much achieving exquisite focusing or near-unity reflectivity but the availability of cost-effective x-ray optics of the required size. IAXO’s optics specifications can be met by a dedicated fabrication effort based on segmented glass substrate optics like the ones of HEFT or NuSTAR [14].

Finally, CAST has enjoyed the sustained development of its detectors towards lower backgrounds during its lifetime. The latest generation of Micromegas detectors in CAST are achieving backgrounds of   counts keV cm s. This value is already a factor 20 better than the backgrounds recorded during the first data-taking periods of CAST. Prospects for reducing this level to counts keV cm s or even lower appear feasible.

Figure 2: LEFT: The parameter space for hadronic axions and ALPs. The CAST limit, some other limits, and the range of PQ models (yellow band) are also shown. The blue lines indicate the sensitivity of the four scenarios discussed in the text. RIGHT: The expected sensitivity regions of the same four scenarios in the parameter space of non-hadronic axions with both electron and photon coupling. The orange band represents the region motivated by WD cooling, and the dashed line along the diagonal the red giants bound on the electron coupling. See [1] for details.

The computed sensitivities of each of the four IAXO scenarios are represented by the family of blue lines in figure 2, both for hadronic axions (left) and non-hadronic ones (right). They include two data taking campaigns for each of the scenarios: one three years long performed without buffer gas (analogous to CAST I), and another three years long period with varying amounts of He gas inside the magnet bore (analogous to CAST II, although without the need to use He). In general, IAXO sensitivity lines go well beyond current CAST sensitivity for hadronic axions and progressively penetrate into the decade GeV, with the best one approaching GeV. They are sensitive to realistic QCD axion models at the 10 meV scale and exclude a good fraction of them above this. For non-hadronic axions, IAXO sensitivity lines penetrate in the DFSZ model region, approaching or even surpassing the red-giant constraints. Most relevantly, the IAXO 3 and IAXO 4 scenarios start probing the region of parameter space highlighted by the cooling of WDs.


  1. I. Irastorza et al., Towards a new generation axion helioscope, JCAP 1106 (2011) 013 [arXiv:1103.5334].
  2. R. D. Peccei and H. R. Quinn, Constraints imposed by CP conservation in the presence of instantons, Phys. Rev. D16 (1977) 1791.
  3. R. D. Peccei and H. R. Quinn, CP Conservation in the presence of instantons, Phys. Rev. Lett. 38 (1977) 1440.
  4. S. Weinberg, A New Light Boson?, Phys. Rev. Lett. 40 (1978) 223.
  5. F. Wilczek, Problem of strong P and T invariance in the presence of instantons, Phys. Rev. Lett. 40 (1978) 279.
  6. P. Sikivie, Axion cosmology, Lect.Notes Phys. 741 (2008) 19 [astro-ph/0610440].
  7. O. Wantz and E. P. S. Shellard, Axion cosmology revisited, Phys. Rev. D82 (2010) 123508 [arXiv:0910.1066].
  8. P. Sikivie, Experimental tests of the “invisible” axion, Phys. Rev. Lett. 51 (1983) 1415.
  9. G. Raffelt and L. Stodolsky, Mixing of the photon with low mass particles, Phys. Rev. D37 (1988) 1237.
  10. D. M. Lazarus et. al., A Search for solar axions, Phys. Rev. Lett. 69 (1992) 2333.
  11. S. Moriyama et. al., Direct search for solar axions by using strong magnetic field and X-ray detectors, Phys. Lett. B434 (1998) 147 [hep-ex/9805026].
  12. K. Zioutas et. al., A decommissioned LHC model magnet as an axion telescope, Nucl. Instrum. Meth. A425 (1999) 480 [astro-ph/9801176].
  13. J. Isern, E. Garcia-Berro, L. Althaus, and A. Corsico, Axions and the pulsation periods of variable white dwarfs revisited, Astron. Astrophys. 512 (2010) A86 [arXiv:1001.5248].
  14. J. E. Koglin et al., Hard x-ray optics: from HEFT to NuSTAR, Proc SPIE (2004) 856.
  15. J. Jaeckel and A. Ringwald, The Low-Energy Frontier of Particle Physics, Ann. Rev. Nucl. Part. Sci. 60 (2010) 405 [arXiv:1002.0329 [hep-ph]].
  16. O. K. Baker et al., arXiv:1110.2180 [physics.ins-det].
Comments 0
Request Comment
You are adding the first comment!
How to quickly get a good reply:
  • Give credit where it’s due by listing out the positive aspects of a paper before getting into which changes should be made.
  • Be specific in your critique, and provide supporting evidence with appropriate references to substantiate general statements.
  • Your comment should inspire ideas to flow and help the author improves the paper.

The better we are at sharing our knowledge with each other, the faster we move forward.
The feedback must be of minimum 40 characters and the title a minimum of 5 characters
Add comment
Loading ...
This is a comment super asjknd jkasnjk adsnkj
The feedback must be of minumum 40 characters
The feedback must be of minumum 40 characters

You are asking your first question!
How to quickly get a good answer:
  • Keep your question short and to the point
  • Check for grammar or spelling errors.
  • Phrase it like a question
Test description