Scientists observe quantum ‘fifth state of matter’ in space for the first time


Quantum ‘fifth state of matter’ observed in space for the first time

Scientists have observed the fifth state of matter in space for the first time, offering unprecedented insight that could help solve some of the quantum universe’s most intractable conundrums, research showed Thursday. A Bose-Einstein condensate occurs when certain types of atoms are cooled to such low temperatures that they take on one unified state. But they are incredibly fragile. The slightest interaction with the external world is enough to warm them past their condensation threshold.

Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs), the existence of which was predicted by Albert Einstein and Indian mathematician Satyendra Nath Bose almost a century ago are formed when atoms of certain elements are cooled to near absolute zero (0 Kelvin, minus 273.15 Celsius). Scientists believe BECs contain vital clues to mysterious phenomena such as dark energy the unknown energy thought to be behind the Universe’s accelerating expansion.

“The ability to study the strange state of matter in orbit will aid scientists’ understanding of fundamental physics as well as make possible new, more sensitive quantum measurements. I cannot overstate the importance of this experiment to the community.”

Lisa Wörner of the German Aerospace Center Institute of Quantum Technologies in Bremen said

Microgravity allows us to confine atoms with much weaker forces since we don’t have to support them against gravity. The successful generation of Bose-Einstein condensates in orbit unveils new opportunities for research on quantum gases as well as for atom interferometry and paves the way for even more ambitious missions.

Microgravity also allowed the atoms to be manipulated by weaker magnetic fields, speeding their cooling and allowing clearer imaging.

Thompson and the team realized that the microgravity onboard the ISS allowed them to create BECs from rubidium a soft metal similar to potassium on a far shallower trap than on Earth. This accounted for the vastly increased time the condensate could be studied before diffusing.

“Most importantly we can observe the atoms as they float entirely unconfined (and hence unperturbed) by external forces,” Thompson said.

The report stated that researchers, by using the Cold Atom Lab, found they could increase the amount of time they can analyze these condensates to more than one second. Scientists would only have hundredths of a single second for the same task when performing the experiments on Earth.

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