Quantum 'fifth state of matter' observed in space for first time

James Marshall
June 14, 2020

It reveals that the substance was first theorised by Albert Einstein and Satyendra Nath Bose in the early 1920s as the fifth state of matter.

This makes them almost impossible for scientists to study on Earth, where gravity interferes with the magnetic fields required to hold them in place for observation.

First, bosons - atoms equally numerous with protons and electrons - are cooled to absolute zero using lasers to lock them in place.

This little-known exotic substance on our planet is considered the fifth state of matter and transits the border between the macroscopic world, governed by classical physics, and the microscopic world, governed by quantum mechanics.

The report mentions that scientists have always hoped to use the Bose-Einstein condensates to gain insight into quantum mechanics, but gravity has always been a deterring factor.

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This exotic type of matter has been made on Earth for 25 years - the first was produced in June 1995 - but gravity has made it harder to study.

The CAL is capable of cooling atoms in a vacuum to temperature levels one 10- billionth of a degree above outright absolutely no- lower than in interstellarspace That's why CAL- the size of a night table- has a track record for being one of the coldest areas in the recognized universe.

Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) - the existence of which was predicted by Albert Einstein and Indian mathematician Satyendra Nath Bose nearly a century ago - are formed when atoms of certain elements are cooled to near absolute zero (0 Kelvin, minus 273.15 Celsius).

The slower the movement of atoms, the fresher they become.

Atoms inside a BEC follow quantum laws but as they've blobbed together they are large enough to be viewed - unlike atoms in other forms of matter.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken lifts off during NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. May 30, 2020. This allows researchers to observe Bose-Einstein condensations more precisely.

"Microgravity allows us to confine atoms with much weaker forces, since we don't have to support them against gravity", Robert Thompson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena told AFP.

Thompson and the team realised that the microgravity on board the ISS allowed them to create BECs from rubidium - a soft metal similar to potassium - on a far shallower trap than on Earth.

However, particles can be manipulated free from Earthly constraints in space.

Longer observation time translates into higher precision achievable in measurements, the authors said.

So, what if the experiment was done in microgravity, will a magnetic trap still be needed?

Not only has the Cold Atom Lab on the ISS created BECs in microgravity but it has been able to do so consistently.

Aveline likewise informed MIT that BECs have more useful applications, which " range from accelerometers and seismometers to gyroscopes". We're running it from computers on the ground, literally inside our living rooms'. This led researchers to send equipment known as the Cold Atom Lab to the International Space Station. According to physicists, this new discovery could solve some of the quantum universe's most intractable conundrums.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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