Fifth state of matter observed by the scientists for the first time in space
Part of: GS-Prelims and GS-III – Science and Technology
- The fifth state of matter has been observed by the scientists for the first time in space.
- A team of NASA Scientists recently unveiled the first results from Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC) experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
- In space, the particles are free from manipulation from any of the Earthly constraints.
- This observation has offered unprecedented insight that can help in solving some of the quantum universe’s most difficult questions.
A breakthrough of ‘Fifth State of Matter’
- Creating a fifth state of matter within the physical confines of a space station is no easy task.
- First bosons, the atoms that have an equal number of protons and electrons, are cooled to absolute zero with the use of lasers to clamp them in space.
- The slower the atoms move around, the cooler they become.
- As the atoms lose heat, the magnetic field is introduced to keep them from moving and each particle’s waves expand.
- Cramming plenty of bosons into a microscopic ‘trap’ causes their waves to overlap into a single matter-wave; this property is known as quantum degeneracy.
- The magnetic trap is released for the scientists to study the condensate.
- However, the atoms begin to repel each other which cause the cloud to fly apart and BEC becomes dilute to detect.
- The microgravity aboard ISS has allowed them to create BECs from rubidium on a far shallower trap than on Earth.
- This gave the vastly increased time to study the condensate before diffusing.
Important value additions
Bose-Einstein Condensates (BEC)
- BEC are formed when the atoms of certain elements are cooled to near absolute zero (0 K or – 273.15°C).
- At this point, atoms become a single entity with quantum property, whereas each particle also functions as a wave of matter.
- Scientists have believed that BECs contain vital clues to mysterious phenomena such as dark energy which is unknown energy thought to be behind the Universe’s accelerating expansion.
- These are extremely fragile and the slightest interaction with the external world is enough to warm them past their condensation threshold.
- Because of this condition, it becomes nearly impossible for scientists to study BECs on Earth as gravity interferes with the magnetic field required to hold them in place for observation.
- BECs in terrestrial lab generally last a handful of milliseconds before dissipating while aboard ISS, those lasted more than a second.
- Studying BECs in microgravity has opened up a host of opportunities.
- Applications range from:
- Studying gravitational waves
- Spacecraft navigation
- Searches for dark energy
- Tests of general relativity
- Prospecting for subsurface minerals on the moon and other planetary bodies
- The existence of Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC) was predicted by an Indian mathematician Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein almost a century ago.
- It is a chemical element with the symbol Rb and atomic number 37.
- It is a very soft, silvery-white metal in the alkali metal group.
- It cannot be stored under atmospheric oxygen, as a highly exothermic reaction will ensue, sometimes even resulting in the metal catching fire.
- It is used in fireworks to give them a purple color.
- It has also been considered for use in a thermoelectric generator.
- Vaporized 87Rb is one of the most commonly used atomic species employed for laser cooling and Bose–Einstein condensation.