Physicists Have Just Produced The Strange State Of Matter Known As A Bose-Einstein Condensate In Space

This marks the first time that a Bose-Einstein condensate has been produced in space.

A Bose-Einstein condensate has been produced in space for the first time.
Ian Waldie / Getty Images

This marks the first time that a Bose-Einstein condensate has been produced in space.

For the first time in history, an international team of physicists has managed to produce the strange state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) in space. In their new paper, physicists discuss the rocket that was launched into space with a tiny device they had created so they could perform experiments on it when it went into free fall.

A Bose-Einstein condensate is created by taking gas atoms that have extremely low density and then chilling them to very close to absolute zero (technically to within a billionth of a degree). With such cold temperatures as these, the atoms start to behave oddly and move into a single macroscopic quantum wave, turning them into a weird state of matter. And as Science Magazine reports, physicists in Germany have now successfully produced a BEC like this out in space.

Physicists chose to perform their experiments in space because, unlike working in a laboratory, space has no gravity. In order to be studied, normally a BEC has to be taken out of its trap of electromagnetic fields and light and in a vacuum chamber it would hit the floor in just a fraction of a second, making it thoroughly difficult to examine.

However, deep in space, this problem doesn’t exist as once a Bose-Einstein condensate is released it can just float without having to grapple with gravity, which allows physicists to perform experiments on it that could never be conducted in the confines of a lab. These experiments include quite interesting things too, like learning more about its quantum nature by creating bubbles of BEC.

To produce this strange state of matter, physicists embarked upon the creation of an automated rig which contained a chip that held rubidium-87 atoms, lasers, a power source and electronics trapped inside it. The rig was then attached to a rocket that was launched on January 23, 2017 in Sweden and was taken 150 miles up in space. Physicists were able to create a BEC in just 1.6 seconds and performed their experiments during the six-minute period of weightlessness as the rocket fell back to Earth, which included a stunning 110 different pre-programmed measurements that were taken.

While American physicists did launch NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory back in May so that Bose-Einstein condensates could be studied, in this case, Germany won the race to create the first BEC in space. However, between the Cold Atom Laboratory and Germany’s exciting new results, physicists will be learning more than they ever dreamed of now with this state of matter.

The new study on the Bose-Einstein condensate that was created in space has been published in Nature.