For the first time, physi­cists cre­ated a ‘fifth’ state of mat­ter in space

Tehran Times - - SCIENCE -

In Jan­uary last year, a rocket car­ry­ing a tiny chip packed with ru­bid­ium-87 atoms was launched more than 200 kilo­me­ters (124 miles) above the planet’s sur­face. The mis­sion was brief, af­ford­ing just six min­utes of mi­cro­grav­ity at its height.

But in that time the tiny chip briefly held the record for be­ing the cold­est spot in space.

On top of that, Ger­man re­searchers still man­aged to cram in more than 100 ex­per­i­ments. Their re­sults are set to im­pact how we will one day study big things in the Uni­verse.

The Mat­ter-Wave In­ter­fer­om­e­try in Mi­cro­grav­ity (MAIUS 1) ex­per­i­ment launched from Kiruna in Swe­den was the first of sev­eral mis­sions aim­ing to study a spe­cial fifth state of mat­ter called a Bose-Ein­stein con­den­sate (BEC) un­der mi­cro­grav­ity con­di­tions.

Col­lec­tions of atoms usu­ally jig­gle with en­ergy in such a way that we can the­o­ret­i­cally see them as in­di­vid­u­als weav­ing through a crowd.

Once that en­ergy is taken away, they fall into a lull, for all pur­poses end­ing up with an iden­ti­cal set of char­ac­ter­is­tics, or quan­tum states. Rather than jump to their own beat, they be­come in­dis­tin­guish­able - a su­per par­ti­cle with one iden­tity.

Forc­ing par­ti­cles to be quiet typ­i­cally en­tails hold­ing them in an elec­tro­mag­netic trap while care­fully tuned lasers strike them with per­fect tim­ing, a lit­tle like hit­ting a per­son on a swing in such a way they slow down rather than speed up.

Once the atoms are quiet, the trap can be turned off and the ex­per­i­ment can be­gin. Just be quick – you need to catch the atom cloud be­fore it drops to the bot­tom of the con­tainer.

With­out grav­ity ru­in­ing the party, re­searchers would have more time to con­duct more com­pli­cated ex­per­i­ments.

Usu­ally, BECs need a room of equip­ment to cool atoms. So re­searchers from a num­ber of Ger­man in­sti­tu­tions had to first work to­gether to minia­tur­ize the setup.

The end re­sult was a small chip con­tain­ing atoms of ru­bid­ium, which could be packed in­side a sound­ing rocket – an un­piloted re­search ves­sel – and shot up to a height of 243 kilo­me­ters (150 miles).

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