Studying quantum behavior on Earth is quite a challenging task for scientists as the effects of quantum mechanics can be examined only when the temperature is near absolute zero.
So NASA has built a device named Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) which can cool down atoms to a fraction of degree above absolute zero, that is the lowest possible temperature.
It is a mini-lab, the size of an ice-box, which employs lasers and magnets to cool a cloud of atoms known as Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) for investigative purposes.
As the gravity of the Earth causes CAL to warm up too much, scientists decided to launch the cooling chamber to the outer space where the temperature never gets colder than 2.7 degrees above absolute zero.
The ability to maintain such a low temperature is of great significance to researchers as it eliminates all forces acting on atoms and help in studying the effects of quantum mechanics, including superfluidity.
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Cold Atom Lab was sent along with the US space agency’s Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft on 21st May, 2018 to be stationed on the International Space Station. Researchers will be able to perform experiments in the world’s coldest lab remotely for up to 6.5 hours every day.
While on Earth, BECs could be observed only for a fraction of second due to the massive pulling force of the planet whereas, in the outer space, the freely evolving particles can be monitored for as long as 10 seconds.
By studying these atoms in the supercold lab, scientists will be able to understand the quantum characteristics of these atoms better and hopefully gain insights on some of the most pervasive forces of the universe like gravity and dark energy.