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Bose- Einstein Quantum fifth sate of matter seen for the first time in space

Date: 12 June 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

Scientists have observed the fifth state of matter in space for the first time, offering unprecedented insight that could help solve some of the quantum universe's most intractable problems.

 

Background

Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) are formed when atoms of certain elements are cooled to near absolute zero. They were predicted by Albert Einstein and Indian mathematician Satyendra Nath Bose almost a century ago.

 

Details

  • BECs straddle the line between the macroscopic world governed by forces such as gravity and the microscopic plane, ruled by quantum mechanics.

  • Scientists believe BECs contain vital clues to mysterious phenomena such as dark energy -- the unknown energy thought to be behind the Universe's accelerating expansion.

  • But BECs are extremely fragile. The slightest interaction with the external world is enough to warm them past their condensation threshold.

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

  • Aboard the ISS the BECs lasted more than a second, offering the team an unprecedented chance to study their properties.

  • Microgravity also allowed the atoms to be manipulated by weaker magnetic fields, speeding their cooling and allowing clearer imaging.

  • First, bosons -- atoms that have an equal number of protons and electrons -- are cooled to absolute zero using lasers to clamp them in place. The slower the atoms move around, the cooler they become.

  • As they lose heat, a magnetic field is introduced to keep them from moving and each particle's wave expands. Cramming many bosons into a microscopic "trap" that causes their waves to overlap into a single matter wave -- a property known as quantum degeneracy.

  • The second the magnetic trap is released in order for scientists to study the condensate, the atoms begin to repel each other, causing the cloud to fly apart and the BEC to becomes too dilute to detect.

  • Previous studies trying to emulate the effect of weightlessness on BECs used aeroplanes in free fall, rockets and even apparatus dropped from various heights.