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This Is Why NASA’s Space Station Bose-Einstein Experiment Will Be so Cool

7 Mar 2017, 21:08 UTC
This Is Why NASA’s Space Station Bose-Einstein Experiment Will Be so Cool
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An instrument capable of cooling matter to a smidgen above absolute zero is being readied for launch to the International Space Station, possibly uncovering new physics and answering some of our biggest cosmological questions.
NASA
This summer, a rather interesting experiment will arrive at the International Space Station. Called the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL), this boxy instrument will be able to chill material down to unimaginably low temperatures — so low that it will become the coldest place in the known universe.*
At a temperature of a billionth of a degree above absolute zero, CAL will investigate a state of matter that cannot exist in nature. This strange state is known as a Bose-Einstein condensate (or BEC), which possesses qualities that, quite frankly, don’t make a lot of sense.
When a gas is sufficiently cooled and the subatomic particles (bosons) drop to their lowest energy state, “normal” physics start to break down and quantum mechanics — the physics that governs the smallest scales — starts to manifest itself throughout a material (on a macroscopic scale). When this occurs, a BEC is possible. And it’s weird.
BECs act as a “superfluid,” which means it has zero viscosity. Early experiments on supercooled ...

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