NASA is set to create the coldest place on Earth and launch it into outer space. Astrophysicists will use a device to re-create temperatures millions of times colder than that of outer space.
The Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) from NASA is the device in question, which will be launched into outer space by SpaceX in August. Scientists will then attempt to carry out experiments which would not have been possible to conduct on Earth. The box will chill down the atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.
"Studying these hyper-cold atoms could reshape our understanding of matter and the fundamental nature of gravity," says Robert Thompson, project scientist at CAL.
NASA's CAL - The Coldest Place On Earth
The coldest place on Earth right now is NASA's CAL. It is an ice-box sized chest packed with lasers, a vacuum chamber and an electromagnetic knife which is used to slow atoms down to a state of negligible motion. In other words, it creates temperatures near the absolute zero mark, making it the coldest place on Earth.
The CAL is in its final stages of assembly and NASA intends to fill up the CAL cavity with atomic gas particles, while the box is at the International Space Station. The microgravity will enable researchers to witness unique quantum events and occurrences, which would be impossible to see on Earth.
One such phenomenon is the creation of the Bose-Einstein condensate. It is a super fluid state of matter where the atoms transform into mysterious waves and propagate themselves. This has never been witnessed in absolute zero temperatures.
NASA further explains that since this super fluid state lacks any kind of viscosity, where the atoms are able to move without any sort of friction and behaves as a single substance.
Physicists would love to study the Bose-Einstein condensate, purely because of its unique and rare nature. The condensate cannot be prepared on Earth because of the Earth's gravitational pull, which does not allow this alluring state of matter to remain in existence for more than a fraction of a second.
Why Is NASA Creating CAL?
In the micro-gravitational environment aboard the ISS, the scientists will be able to study the Bose-Einstein condensate much more comprehensively. NASA speculates that the condensate will be in existence in space for up to 10 seconds at a time. This is a huge breakthrough for physicists.
A detailed study of the Bose-Einstein condensate will help scientists understand the links between classic and quantum physics and could very well lead to the construction of better sensors, atomic clocks and telescopes used in space. The prospect of the world's first quantum computer may also be quite near.
The possibilities are therefore endless, as scientists gear up for the launch of the CAL. Science is set to prosper immensely from the Bose-Einstein condensate and one can only wait in anticipation of what new scientific discoveries are on the horizon.