Later this 12 months, the International Space Station will obtain a brand new piece of scientific tools often known as the Cold Atom Lab (CAL). It’s primarily a high-tech fridge that may cool matter to 1 billionth of a level above absolute zero—the bodily impossible-to-reach temperature at which atoms theoretically cease shifting (minus 459.67 levels Fahrenheit).
Because it is going to be capable of cool matter to such extremes within the distinctive zero-gravity surroundings of house, CAL will present researchers with fascinating new insights into the properties of matter.
“At room temperature, atoms bounce off each other in all directions at a few hundred meters per second,” Rob Thompson, CAL Project Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), stated in an announcement. “But in CAL they’ll slow down a million-fold and condense into unique states of quantum matter.”
One of the primary experiments aboard CAL will examine particle conduct and interactions by experimenting with ultra-cold, low-density gases.
“The way atoms behave in this state gets very complex, surprising and counterintuitive, and that’s why we’re doing this,” stated Eric Cornell from the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who will lead these first experiments.
In 2001, Cornell shared the Nobel Prize in physics for creating Bose-Einstein condensates—a state of matter wherein teams of atoms are cooled to only above absolute zero, at which level they start to behave like one single atom and show wave-like properties.
In house, the properties of those Bose-Einstein condensates change into even stranger—they maintain their wavelike type for much longer than on Earth, one thing scientists aboard the ISS will be capable to examine additional.
CAL might even be capable to assist scientists handle one of many largest questions in physics at the moment: reconcile quantum mechanics and normal relativity, the 2 major theories describing how the universe works at completely different scales.
General relativity, developed by Albert Einstein, governs the conduct of gravity and enormous objects—such because the planets, stars and galaxies—whereas quantum mechanics offers with the unusual physics of the very small—atoms and subatomic particles.
Researchers from the University of Rochester and the University of Berkeley plan to make use of CAL to check a cornerstone of Einstein’s idea often known as the equivalence precept, in an experiment impressed by Galileo.
Instead of dropping cannonballs off the Leaning Tower of Pisa like the good Italian scientist, the researchers will drop atoms inside CAL, permitting them to fall for a number of seconds. This will allow them to work out the variations in how the atoms speed up, which might reveal hyperlinks between gravity and the quantum world.
“Many more experiments are planned for this ‘cool’ new laboratory—and no one knows where they will lead,” Thompson stated. “With CAL, we’re entering the unknown.”