In a bid to be able to create the coldest-temperature spot in space, NASA is sending an experimental apparatus using which, scientists will create a spot with temperature that’s 10 billion times colder than the vacuum of space using laser rays.

The American space agency, NASA has been in the quest to create ever-coldest temperature in order to study atoms’ quantum behaviour in such extreme conditions. In an advancement towards the quest, the space agency is sending out an apparatus to the International Space Station which will create a spot with the coldest temperature in the entire universe. The apparatus, known as the Cold Atom Laboratory aka CAL – designed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), is a payload about the size of an ice chest aboard Orbital ATK’s Cygnus rocket, which will help scientists create temperature that is 10 billion times colder than the temperature of vacuum – making the chilliest spot in the entire universe.

Now it is a well-known fact that absolute zero is the coldest temperature in the universe and is impossible to achieve because at that point, atoms stop moving at all. What CAL will do is, it will chill clouds of atoms with lasers and magnets aboard the space station to this ultra-cold temperature – close to absolute zero, or the lowest temperature possible that is popularly known as zero Kelvin (-273.15 Celsius or -459.67 Fahrenheit). Here, “close to absolute zero” implies to a temperature that is just one-tenth of a billion of a degree above absolute zero. At that temperature, atoms will move extremely slowly and hence, exhibiting microscopic quantum phenomena and letting us study the weird quantum properties of ultra-cold atoms.

These ultra-cold atom clouds are known as Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC) and have and can be created on Earth too. So why launch CAL into space? Because we have gravity here. When these BECs are created on Earth, these slowed-down almost frozen atoms are pulled downwards by gravity very quickly – making them available for observing just for a fraction of second. Hence, in space, on the ISS with microgravity environment, it will allow scientists to operate CAL remotely and observe atoms for about 10 seconds – the longest time that BECs have ever been observed. Studying these ultra-cold atoms can help us advance in superconductivity and build quantum computers, and laser-cooled atomic clocks using never-before-seen quantum phenomena. It can actually reshape our understanding of matter and the fundamental nature of gravity – a quantum future, indeed.

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