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Home > News > Company News > NASA makes ultra-cold atoms in.....

NASA makes ultra-cold atoms in space

  • Author:Ella Cai
  • Release on:2018-07-31
Researchers from NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) have produced clouds of ultracold atoms called Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) aboard the International Space Station (ISS), representing the coldest experiments ever conducted in space.

BECs, which can reach temperatures just above absolute zero, the point where atoms should theoretically stop moving entirely, have never previously been produced in orbit.

The scientists produced the BECs from atoms of rubidium, with temperatures as low as 100 nanokelvin, significantly colder than the average temperature in space, about three Kelvin.

At ultracold temperatures, the atoms in a BEC will start to behave atypical to how they behave on Earth.

BECs are charactrised as a fifth state of matter, distinct from gases, liquids, solids and plasma.

The atoms in BECs will act more like waves than particle, although the wave nature of atoms is only observable at microscopic scales.

However, because BECs make this phenomenon macroscopic, they are easier to study.

The ultracold atoms all assume their lowest energy state and take on the same wave identity to become indistinguishable from one another.

The atom clouds together act like a single super atom, rather than individual atoms.

“CAL is an extremely complicated instrument,” says Robert Shotwell who oversees the experiment, “typically, BEC experiments involve enough equipment to fill a room and require near-constant monitoring by scientists, whereas CAL is about the size of a small refrigerator and can be operated remotely from Earth. It was a struggle and required significant effort to overcome all the hurdles necessary to produce the sophisticated facility that’s operating on the space station today.”

CAL is a multi-user facility that focuses on the study of the fundamental law of nature using ultracold quantum gases in microgravity.

Cold atoms are long-lived, precisely controlled quantum particles could provide the ideal platform to study quantum phenomena and be used in potential quantum technology applications.

BECs were first produced in the lab in 1995 after being predicted by physicists Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein 71 years earlier.

The researchers next plan to make BECs using two different isotopes of potassium atoms.