Physicists Created A 'Mysterious Waveform' Matter To Study Gravitational Waves

Friday, 19 October 2018 - 12:51PM
Physics
Astrophysics
Space
Friday, 19 October 2018 - 12:51PM
Physicists Created A 'Mysterious Waveform' Matter To Study Gravitational Waves
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Composite: NASA and Pixabay
There was a time when physics experiments could be carried out with two weighted balls and a tower in Pisa (although Galileo's famous experiment is most likely apocryphal). These days scientists need a rocket, a special Rubidium isotope, some lasers, and a few minutes of zero-gravity free-fall to carry out their experiments. At least, that's what you need to create a Bose-Einstein condensate in space.

The Bose-Einstein condensate is probably the most exotic state of matter scientists have discovered yet and it's very, very difficult to produce. At its heart, a BEC is a collection of atoms whose temperature has been lowered to almost absolute zero. From there, the atoms start to condense themselves into a unified structure, which acts as if it were a single atom. One of the potential applications for BECs is creating a sensor that can pick up on gravitational waves, but scientists still need to conduct experiments to fully understand what BECs are capable of.

The only problem is that Bose-Einstein condensates don't like gravity.

In normal conditions, a BEC can be studied effectively only when it's in free-fall from a tower, but that gives scientists a window lasting mere fractions of a second. This spurred scientists to try to create a BEC while it was in free-fall from space, which would allow them to accomplish a lot more research in one fell swoop. According to Phys.org:

"The device consisted of a capsule containing a chip holding a group of rubidium-87 atoms, electronics, some lasers and a power source. It was activated once the rocket reached an altitude of 243 km, producing a BEC in just 1.6 seconds. Once the BEC was produced, 110 preprogrammed experiments were carried out in the six minutes it took the rocket to fall back to Earth."

Just to be clear, a Bose-Einstein condensate is very different from a Higgs-Boson particle (the weird little piece of matter the Large Hadron Collider is trying to study). The key difference is that experiments for a BEC don't run the risk of turning the Earth into a hyper-dense sphere the size of a football field.

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