For six minutes, 150 miles above Kiruna, Sweden, on January 23, 2017 floated the coldest known spot in the universe.
As far as we know, the coldest anything in nature can be is absolute zero on the Kelvin scale, which is,
This postage-stamp-sized atom chip packed tight with thousands of rubidium-87 atoms was just a few billionths of a degree warmer than that.
The atom chip was up there in low orbit to help a team of scientist study up-close some of the oddest, least-understood stuff there is:
The team of German
scientists was led by Dennis Becker of QUEST-Leibniz
Research School, Leibniz University Hannover, Hanover, Germany.
A that point, they're tens of thousands of atoms all vibrating in sync, creating something like a blob in which the tiniest of disturbances can be detected.
Scientists hope that BEC can one day be harnessed for gravitational-wave detection.
The 2010 experiment, close-up.
Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics
They dropped the capsule 146 meters from the top of a tower.
It fell for about four seconds, and during the zero gravity of free-fall, they remotely generated a BEC on the atom chip in less than a second. (In the lab, it takes up to a minute.) Once the BEC formed, they released the trap and the camera allowed them to see its spread as it fell.
They were able to observe
the BEC for a few seconds before it hit bottom.
The low gravity allowed them to extend the viewing time too the BEC to six minutes, a massive improvement, allowing researcher to race through 110 remote-controlled experiments.
a. MAUIS launch vehicle;
b. The launch compartment;
c. The vacuum-sealed device holding the atom chip
(Becker, et al)
The team's apparatus was launched into space under the auspices of the MAIUS 1, or Matter-Wave Interferometry in Microgravity.
Image: Becker, et al.
The BEC is created in, transported by, and released from the magnetic trap of the atom chip.
Two additional light
beams (BD) induce
Bragg diffraction scattering the
BEC, and a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera records the BEC
using laser light (D).
This could be an important technique because upon parting, the two halves were identical on a quantum level, and any differences observed after rejoicing would indicate some sort of interference, such as a gravitational wave.
Becker, et al
While Becker's team made
the first space BEC, the NASA team has reportedly been
extending the time a BEC can be