Thursday 18 April 2024


Deep inside the largest and deepest gold mine in North America scientists are looking for dark matter particles and neutrinos instead of precious metals. It may not seem exciting on the surface — but it was far below!

The Homestake Gold Mine in Lawrence County, South Dakota was a going concern from about 1876 to 2001.

The mine produced more than forty million troy ounces of gold in its one hundred and twenty-five-year history, dating back to the beginnings of the Black Hills Gold Rush.

To give its humble beginnings a bit of context, Homestake was started in the days of miners hauling loads of ore via horse and mule and the battles of the Great Sioux War. Folk moved about via horse-drawn buggies and Alexander Graham Bell had just made his first successful telephone call.

Wyatt Earp was working in Dodge City, Kansas — he had yet to get the heck outta Dodge — and Mark Twain was in the throes of publishing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  — And our dear Thomas Edison had just opened his first industrial research lab in Menlo Park. The mine is part of the Homestake Formation, an Early Proterozoic layer of iron carbonate and iron silicate that produces auriferous greenschist gold. What does all that geeky goodness mean? If you were a gold miner it would be music to your ears. They ground down that schist to get the glorious good stuff and made a tiny wee sum doing so. But then gold prices levelled off — from 1997 ($287.05) to 2001 ($276.50) — and rumblings from the owners started to grow. They bailed in 2001, ironically just before gold prices started up again.

But back to 2001, that levelling saw the owners look to a new source of revenue in an unusual place. One they had explored way back in the 1960s in a purpose-built underground laboratory that sounds more like something out of a science fiction book. The brainchild of chemist and astrophysicists, John Bahcall and Raymond Davis Jr. from the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, the laboratory was used to observe solar neutrinos, electron neutrinos produced by the Sun as a product of nuclear fusion