As shown by studies conducted yesterday, June 11, 2020, at the ISS, scientists for the first time we’re able to observe the fifth state of matter in space. In the future, this may solve some of the most insurmountable puzzles of the quantum universe. It is reported by the journal Nature.
Bose-Einstein condensates, the existence of which was predicted by Albert Einstein and Indian mathematician Satyendra Nat Bose almost a century ago, are formed when the atoms of some elements are cooled to almost absolute zero – this is –273.15 ° C. In such a highly cooled state, a sufficiently large number of atoms appear in their lowest possible quantum states, and quantum effects begin to manifest themselves at the macroscopic level.
Scientists believe that the Bose-Einstein condensates contain vital keys to mysterious phenomena, such as dark energy – the unknown energy that is believed to be behind the accelerating expansion of the universe.
But at the same time they are extremely fragile. The slightest interaction with the outside world is enough to warm them above the condensation threshold. This makes them almost impossible for scientists to study on Earth, where gravity interferes with the magnetic fields necessary to hold them in place for observation.
A team of NASA scientists unveiled the first results of experiments with the Bose-Einstein condensate on the ISS, where particles can be controlled without restrictions associated with the Earth.
“Microgravity allows us to limit atoms to much weaker forces, since we do not need to support them against gravity.”Robert Thompson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
The study documents several striking differences in the properties of Bose-Einstein condensates created on Earth and those onboard the ISS. This condition in ground-based laboratories usually lasts a few milliseconds before scattering. Onboard the ISS, this condition lasted more than a second, offering the team an unprecedented chance to study their properties. Microgravity also allowed atoms to manipulate weaker magnetic fields, accelerating their cooling and allowing for sharper images.
The creation of the fifth state of matter, especially within the physical space of a space station, is an important event. First, bosons – particles that have an equal number of protons and electrons – are cooled to almost absolute zero, using lasers to fix them in place. The slower the atoms move, the colder they become.
When they lose heat, a magnetic field is created that prevents them from moving, and the wave of each particle expands. The transformation of many bosons into a microscopic “trap” that causes their waves to overlap into one wave of matter – a property known as quantum degeneracy.
Secondly, the magnetic trap is released so that scientists can investigate the condensate, but the atoms begin to repel each other, causing the cloud to fly apart, and the Bose-Einstein condensate becomes too “diluted” to be detectable.
Microgravity on board the ISS allowed scientists to create a Bose-Einstein condensate from rubidium – a soft metal similar to potassium – in a much smaller “trap” than on Earth. This explains the significantly increased time during which the condensate can be examined before diffusion.
Previous studies attempting to simulate the effect of weightlessness on the Bose-Einstein condensate used free-fall aircraft, rockets, and even apparatuses dropped from different heights.
The scope of Bose-Einstein condensates and their explanation varies from tests of the general theory of relativity and the search for dark energy and gravitational waves to navigation of spacecraft and the search for underground minerals on the Moon and other planetary bodies.