Think you know a pretty cool place — maybe a club or bar? Think again; NASA is creating the coolest place on the planet. Of course, we’re talking about temperature here. NASA’s scientists are working on designing the coldest possible place, and then launching it into space in an experiment that’s as cool as they come.
Scientists have devised the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL), a box that will have freezing temperatures. If you think you’ve experienced cold before, this box will give you a rude awakening. The atoms inside have been chilled to a billionth of a degree of absolute zero.
About the size of an ice cooler (appropriately enough), the box is full of lasers and a vacuum to keep the chill as cold as possible. The inside is filled with atomic gas particles. Because of the super fluid nature of the inside of the box, the atoms have no viscosity and don’t rub against anything as they travel, keeping the temperature even colder. An electromagnetic ice slows the atoms as much as possible so they get the full freezing impact. All this science adds up to the coldest place on Earth.
In August, the box is set to be launched into space by SpaceX. Its final destination is the International Space Station (ISS). There, it will serve a singular purpose: scientists on the space station will observe how the atomic gas particles act. Being in space will allow the scientists to observe atomic events that are impossible on Earth, such as quantum occurrences. Without the gravity of Earth interfering, the space station scientists will get an opportunity to witness the extremely rare Bose-Einstein condensate, which cannot exist on our planet for more than a fraction of a second. Scientists believe that in space the condensate could last for up to 10 seconds, and prove a massive breakthrough in the world of physics.
This experiment could prove to be the bridge between standard and quantum physics, filling in significant gaps in our understanding of these fields. And with a further understanding scientists could develop advanced sensors, quantum clocks, and a whole host of complicated new technology. Now that’s pretty cool.