NASA wants to create the coolest spot in the universe

In such a cool state, the atoms make Bose-Einstein condensate, a state where old physics rules are replaced by quantum physics.

The Cold Atom Lab, built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is designed to created the coldest temperatures in the universe.

This cold will create a distinct state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate on the ISS so that researchers can study how it behaves in free-fall.

The box is equipped with lasers, a vacuum, chamber, and an electromagnetic "knife" that can cancel out the energy of gas particles to freeze atoms to a point more than 100 million times colder than the depths of space. It is created to freeze gas atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.

With increased knowledge of Bose-Einstein condensates comes a host of applications in science and technology.

The suite of instruments, developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the USA, is called the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL). Matter nearly stop behaving as particles and starts behaving more like waves. CAL achieves new low temperatures for longer observation of these mysterious waveforms. Cornell is also the Nobel Prize victor who first created Bose-Einstein condensates in 1995.

The cold atoms will help scientists understand gravity and matter, and also the dark energy, said CAL Project Scientist Robert Thompson of JPL. Future developments of CAL technology could allow them to be observed for even hundreds of seconds, NASA said in a statement Monday.

This is where this approach kicks in: bose-Einstein condensates have been created on Earth before several times, but due to Earth's gravitational pull, they always fall down and therefore physicists only have fractions of a second to observe them.

'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'. However, in space, aboard the ISS, Nasa says the atoms can "hold their wave-like forms longer", providing scientists with a wider window of opportunity to "understand physics at its most basic level". The atoms in a superfluid are frictionless and move without any viscosity. Bose-Einstein condensates could potentially be used to build better atomic clocks or quantum computers, as well as better gravitational detectors to study dark matter and dark energy.

"If you had superfluid water and spun it around in a glass, it would spin forever".

The CAL is under testing before it goes to Cape Canaveral, Florida, however the tests yet don't ensure its safe operation in space, said Dave Aveline, the test-bed lead at JPL.

  • Carolyn Briggs