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ISS NASA Space

NASA's Atomic Fridge Will Make the ISS the Coldest Known Place in the Universe (vice.com) 98

An anonymous reader shares a report: Later this year, a small part of the International Space Station will become 10 billion times colder than the average temperature of the vacuum of space thanks to the Cold Atom Lab (CAL). Once it's on the space station, this atomic fridge will be the coldest known place in the universe and will allow physicists to 'see' into the quantum realm in a way that would never be possible on Earth.

In a normal room, "atoms are bouncing off one another in all directions at a few hundred meters per second," Rob Thompson, a NASA scientist working on CAL explained in a statement. CAL, however, can reach temperatures that are just one ten billionth of a degree above absolute zero -- the point at which matter loses all its thermal energy -- which means that this chaotic atomic motion comes to a near standstill.

CAL uses magnetic fields and lasers traps to capture the gaseous atoms and cool them to nearly absolute zero. Since all the atoms have the same energy levels at that point, these effectively motionless atoms condense into a state of quantum matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate. This state of matter means that the atoms have the properties of one continuous wave rather discrete particles.

NASA's Atomic Fridge Will Make the ISS the Coldest Known Place in the Universe

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  • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @01:34PM (#56628020) Journal
    Although Bose-Einstein condensates have been made in labs on Earth, gravity causes the particles to sink to the bottom of the device. Yet in the microgravity of low earth orbit, the Bose-Einstein condensate can hold its wave form for much longer—up to ten seconds—which allows researchers to better understand its properties.
    • Thank you. I figured it was probably something like that, but it's a rather critical detail to have been left out.

  • Funny thought... What would happen to a can of beer if I put it inside that "fridge" (assuming of course that the refrigerator was large enough for this)?
  • by ArhcAngel ( 247594 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @02:23PM (#56628334)

    this atomic fridge will be the coldest known place in the universe

    They are clearly all single. Otherwise they would know the coldest place known to man is a woman who's mad at you.

    • reading this thread, i was disappointed that no one made the comment "coldest place in the universe, other than my ex-wife's heart" or something similar. but yours was close enough.

      Disappointed in you slashdot, up yer game.

  • How much of the universe do we really know? I understand how unrealistic it is that there are naturally occuring coldspots like this but this is phrased like we've explored the universe.
    • I supposed that's why they used the qualifier 'known place'
    • Cold spots are dark - any heat would cause some detectable radiation.

      So a large cold spot would be detectable from the absence of anything detectable. Kinda like the Bootes void: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org], but even more void-ish.

      So we can be reasonably sure a large cold spot doesn't exist. Obviously small cold spots could exist, but you'd expect things to mix well enough that it would be more than 0.000000001 K.

  • Assuming it were possible to drop the temperature to absolute zero, would an atom in this state be able to be observed, including its constituent parts? Could it be moved in one piece like a piece of matter?

    Or would the fact it is at absolute zero cause it to fall to pieces (no pun intended)? How would quantum mechanics come into play in this scenario?

  • will be the coldest known place in the universe

    What if this triggers some run-away process or black hole that destroys our planet?

    Slim chance, I agree, but not zero.

    • How is the chance of that happening any greater than your Slashdot post accidentally leading to a black hole?

      After all, it would be a slim chance, but not zero.

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        How is the chance of that happening any greater than your Slashdot post accidentally leading to a black hole?

        But that's already tested: I've made hundreds of bad/trolly posts before, without ending Earth.

        • But that's already tested: I've made hundreds of bad/trolly posts before, without ending Earth.

          Each post is an independant test of the theory your posts may produce a black hole. Since the chance is as small as the orbital experiment producing a black hole, the fact you have posted hundreds of times provides no evidence.

          • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

            No. If tests X, Y, and Z are similar to each other, but not to test A; then the probability of X triggering the same effect that Z does is greater than it triggering the same effect that A does.

            • No. They are not similar, each post has different text, going through a different conjunction of network traffic which would be the source of the black hole forming (or possibly the disk storage array reaching critical mass from a charged particle slightly altered in course from the traffic from the post), each post is obviously an independent trial with no effect on the probability of any others.

              • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

                They are far far more similar than space-freeze. Your logic is bad, admit it. ...uh, why the fuck am I arguing about this?

    • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

      Well, a basic knowledge of physics would tell you that 1) black holes only form with ridiculous amounts of mass, which is a different unit than temperature, and 2) the normal effect of removing temperature from a thing and then stopping the experiment is that the temperature just comes back to average.

  • A vacuum has no temperature since temperature is a measure of the kinetic energy of the particles. In deep space we consider the temperature to be the equilibrium temperature an object will eventually reach, which is the temperature of the cosmic background temperature.

    Anyway, one ten billionth of a degree over absolute zero is not 10 billions times colder than the average temperature of the vacuum of space. We really need journalists to have at least passed grade 9 science before writing about science.
  • Aaaaaaaaa kiiiiiiiir aaaaaaaaaaaa !!!!!
  • How many beers can this atomic fridge store?

  • "will become 10 billion times colder than the average temperature of the vacuum of space"

    That is a meaningless statement. Temperature doesn't work that way mathematically.

    If a scientist or engineer says something like that then shame on them.

    If a journalist says something like that then "oh, hum" because they make stupid statements on a pretty frequent basis... *sigh*

  • 10 billion times colder...

    is an utterly ridiculous, nonsensical phrase. Room temperature is measured ultimately in Kelvin, and is so many degrees above theoretical absolute zero.

    Even "the vacuum of space", which is not a complete vacuum, is also not at absolute zero, and is a positive temperature. It isn't "cold".

    "Cold" is a human-centric term. Something that is far below the freezing of water, for example, most people consider to be pretty damned cold.

    But "cold" can only be measured as compared to normal human ambient or b

  • Building and maintaining a system like this is very hard! Astronauts are often good scientists, but these laser cryogenic system require some deep specialization to keep running day to day. The impressive part of this to me is that in a few decades we went from 4-5 people in the world being able to build such systems and get them to work (once a month, maybe) to being able to strap a system to a rocket and have someone from a completely different field operate it in an environment where spare parts are at

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong

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