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The International Space Station (ISS), the sophisticated laboratory that is orbiting at 400 km altitude above the Earth, houses from two years ago an experiment of the size of a freezer it is called Cold Atom Lab (CAL) . The installation looks outdated compared to the latest model of refrigerator that we keep in the house, but it is extraordinary. You can cool down atoms in a vacuum to temperatures one ten billionth of a degree above absolute zero -the lowest possible temperature (- 273.15 degrees °C), which makes one of the coldest places in the universe . Now, according to advertise in the magazine “Nature”, scientists have used it to achieve, for the first time, the generation in the space of a strange state of matter that does not exist in nature.

this Is a condensed of Bose-Einstein (BEC) , known as the fifth state of matter . What are clouds of gas consisting of multiple atoms that behave as if they were one, are “synchronized” in a wave, and they share their quantum properties. These condensates were predicted for the first time by Albert Einstein and Satyendra Nath Bose makes more than 95 years, but the scientists observed for the first time in the laboratory only 25 years. Since then, they have become a tool that is a key in the study of quantum physics , and are routinely produced in hundreds of laboratories around the world. However, never until now had managed to in the space.

Advantages of the microgravity

The generation of a BEC of rubidium and potassium on board the space station is a great technological achievement, but not only that. The condition of microgravity perpetual offering new and better methods to test this type of objects and to measure them with greater precision than in the Earth.

The atoms of rubidium and potassium are injected into the chamber ultra-cold to reduce your speed. It then creates a magnetic trap, which, along with other tools, you get that the atoms form a cloud dense. At this point, the atoms “are confused with each other,” explains MIT Technology Review, David Aveline, a physicist at jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA and senior author of the study.

When the cloud of atoms is released into the magnetic trap expands, which cools it even more. The problem is that if they are separated too much, already do not behave like a condensate. The earth’s gravity can distort it, or destroy it completely. But in microgravity, the atoms are held together even with an increase in the volume of the trap. This allows the condensate to last longer, beyond a second compared to tens of milliseconds can be achieved on Earth. This is fundamental, since an observation time longer translates into a higher attainable accuracy in the measurements. In addition, in conditions of microgravity, the atoms can be trapped by forces more weak, which allows to reach rather low temperatures, in which the quantum effects of exotic are becoming more and more prominent.

gravitational Waves

“The successful generation of a condensate of Bose-Einstein orbit reveals new opportunities for the investigation of gases, quantum, as well as for interferometry, atomic, and paves the way for missions even more ambitious,” says Maike Lachmann, of the Institute of Quantum Optics of the University of Leibniz in Hanover (Germany), in an article attached to the study.

The direct observation of these behaviors atomic unique will help answer questions about how it works our world in the smaller scales. In addition, the experiment CAL could some day allow the BEC will form the basis of instruments ultra-sensitive to detect weak signals of some of the most mysterious phenomena of the universe, as gravitational waves and dark energy . It could also pave the way for better inertial sensors, from accelerometers and seismometers to gyros.