Atomic physicists at NASA are working to create an exotic state of matter…in space. And it turns out, the International Space Station is the perfect home base for these experiments.
NASA’s new quantum lab is studying a bizarre and rare form of matter called Bose-Einstein condensates… and it’s doing it in space! We went inside the NASA control room that’s running these experiments to talk to the scientists behind this quest to probe the universe’s biggest mysteries.
The Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) is a multi-user facility that is operating aboard the ISS producing Bose-Einstein condensates, which are clouds of ultra-cooled atoms, to perform quantum physics experiments in microgravity.
The space lab (designed and built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) operates when the astronauts aboard the ISS are asleep and is engineered to trap gas atoms, cooling them to temperatures just barely above absolute zero. It is here, in this level of cold, that the Bose-Einstein condensates come into existence.
Find out more about the Cold Atom Lab; why microgravity is so important when it comes to creating the coldest things; and how this ultracool state of matter comes to fruition in space on this episode of Focal Point.
The Coldest Spot in the Universe
“The quest for ever colder temperatures has been a major theme of physics for over a century, leading to such breakthroughs such as the discovery of superfluidity and superconductivity, and more recently to the development of laser cooling techniques and the observation of dilute atomic-gas Bose-Einstein Condensates (BEC) and super-fluid Fermi gases.”
NASA’s Cold Atom Lab (CAL): system development and ground test status
“This unique facility will enable novel ultracold atom research to be remotely performed by an international group of principle investigators with broad applications in fundamental physics and inertial sensing.”
NASA Is Launching a Box of Lasers to Make the Coldest Spot In the Universe
“The Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) is a physics research facility the size of an ice chest, designed and built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, that will chill clouds of atoms with lasers and magnets aboard the space station to this ultracold temperature — close to absolute zero, or the lowest temperature possible.”