NASA just sent an instrument to the ISS that is capable of creating the coldest temperature in the universe.
To create the coldest temperature in the entire universe, NASA sent an apparatus capable of doing such a feat to the International Space Station on Monday. According to the NASA scientists, the instrument will be creating “a spot 10 billion times colder than the vacuum of space” and will focus on the quantum behavior of atoms.
Dubbed as the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL), the apparatus is reportedly the size of an ice chest. It was designed and built by researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California and subsequently launched into space onboard Orbital ATK’s Cygnus rocket.
CAL’s primary purpose is to help researchers observe and better understand the unusual quantum properties of ultracold atoms. Using the lasers and magnets aboard the ISS, CAL will chill atom clouds to an ultracold temperature, known as the Bose-Einstein condensates, which is close to absolute zero (-273.15 Celsius or -459.67 Fahrenheit) — the lowest known possible temperature.
To date, absolute zero is considered the coldest temperature in the universe. Scientists believe that it is impossible to achieve since atoms stop moving at that point.
However, CAL could cool down the temperature of the clouds of atoms to just one-tenth of a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. At this temperature, the atoms would not stop but just move extremely slow, eventually exhibiting microscopic quantum phenomena.
“On Earth, freely evolving BEC’s are dragged down by the pull of gravity, and can typically only be observed for a fraction of a second. But in the microgravity environment of the space station, each freely evolving BEC can be observed for up to 10 seconds, which is longer than what’s possible with any other existing BEC experiment,” NASA said.
“CAL is a multi-user facility and researchers will be able to conduct experiments remotely, with no astronaut assistance, with up to 6.5 hours of experimentation time available each day.”
CAL will then load the cooled atoms into weak magnetic traps where the scientists can study them. This would allow researchers to study the atoms in many different quantum states and interactions.
“Studying these hypercold atoms could reshape our understanding of matter and the fundamental nature of gravity,” Robert Thompson, a CAL project scientist at JPL, said in a statement. “The experiments we’ll do with the Cold Atom Lab will give us insight into gravity and dark energy — some of the most pervasive forces in the universe.”