Dark Matter Detection with Bound Nuclear Targets: The Poisson Phonon Tail

Yonatan Kahn, Gordan Krnjaic, Bashi Mandava

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dark matter (DM) scattering with nuclei in solid-state systems may produce elastic nuclear recoil at high energies and single-phonon excitation at low energies. When the DM momentum is comparable to the momentum spread of nuclei bound in a lattice, q0=2mNω0 where mN is the mass of the nucleus and ω0 is the optical phonon energy, an intermediate scattering regime characterized by multiphonon excitations emerges. We study a greatly simplified model of a single nucleus in a harmonic potential and show that, while the mean energy deposited for a given momentum transfer q is equal to the elastic value q2/(2mN), the phonon occupation number follows a Poisson distribution and thus the energy spread is ΔE=qω0/(2mN). This observation suggests that low-threshold calorimetric detectors may have significantly increased sensitivity to sub-GeV DM compared to the expectation from elastic scattering, even when the energy threshold is above the single-phonon energy, by exploiting the tail of the Poisson distribution for phonons above the elastic energy. We use a simple model of electronic excitations to argue that this multiphonon signal will also accompany ionization signals induced from DM-electron scattering or the Migdal effect. In well-motivated models where DM couples to a heavy, kinetically mixed dark photon, we show that these signals can probe experimental milestones for cosmological DM production via thermal freeze-out, including the thermal target for Majorana fermion DM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number081804
JournalPhysical review letters
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 20 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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