NASA is planning for sending an ice chest sized box to the International Space Station (ISS). There it will freeze gas atoms for creating the coolest spot in the universe.
It is an advancement which might provide newer insights into gravity and dark matter.
Inside that box, lasers, a vacuum chamber and an electromagnetic knife will be used for canceling out the energy gas particles.
It is done by slowing them until they are almost motionless. Suite of instruments which are developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in US is called Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL).
Freezing gas atoms in Universe:
It is all set to ride to space in August aboard the SpaceX CRS-12. CAL’s instruments are designed to freeze gas atoms to mere billionth of a degree above absolute zero. This is more than 100 million times colder than the depths of space.
Robert Thompson is a CAL project scientist. He says, “Studying these hyper-cold atoms could reshape our understanding of matter and the fundamental nature of gravity. The experiments we’ll do with the Cold Atom Lab will give us insight into gravity and dark energy – some of the most pervasive forces in the universe.”
When these atoms are cooled to extreme temperatures, they can form distinct state of matter. This is known as a Bose-Einstein condensate.
It will occur when they will be inside CAL. In this state, familiar rules of physics recede and quantum physics begins to take over.
Even matters can be observed behaving lesser like particles and more like the waves. Rows of atoms are moving in concert with one another as if they are riding a moving fabric.
These mysterious waveforms have never been seen at temperatures which are as low as what CAL will achieve.
NASA has never before created or observed Bose-Einstein condensates in space. On Earth, pull of the gravity is causing atoms to continually settle towards the ground.
It means they are typically only observable for fractions of a second.
Ultra cold atoms:
On the ISS, ultra-cold atoms can hold their wave-like forms which are longer while in freefall. That is specifically offering scientists a longer window for understanding physics at its most basic level.
Thompson estimated that CAL will allow Bose-Einstein condensate for being observable for up to five to ten seconds. Future development of the technologies has used over CAL which could allow them for lasting for hundreds of seconds.
Bose-Einstein condensates are a super-fluid which is a fluid with zero viscosity. It is where the atoms are moving without friction as if they were all one, solid substance.
Anita Sengupta of JPL is also a Cold Atom Lab project manager. She says, “If you had super-fluid water and spun it around in a glass, it would spin forever. There’s no viscosity to slow it down and dissipate the kinetic energy.”
Sengupta further says, “If we can better understand the physics of super-fluids, we can possibly learn to use those for more efficient transfer of energy.”