Space Station Is About to Get Much, Much Cooler

Cold Atom Lab is coming in August
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 8, 2017 3:33 PM CST
Space Station Is About to Get Much, Much Cooler
An artist's rendering of the Cold Atom Laboratory.   (NASA)

You're about to feel much kinder toward Earth's chilly winter months. This summer, the International Space Station will become host to the coldest spot in the universe when NASA delivers a chamber that is more than 100 million times colder than deep space, which is itself far chillier than the lowest temperatures on Earth. The Cold Atom Laboratory, about the size of an ice chest, is scheduled to fly to the ISS in August after a few more tests at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, reports The lab will be equipped with lasers, a vacuum chamber, and an electromagnetic knife capable of almost freezing atoms in place at a temperature just a billionth of a degree above absolute zero, which is -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, reports Yahoo.

The goal isn't to see how violently a person can shiver, since no human could survive such conditions. Rather, at this state, atoms are expected to form a "superfluid" state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate and converge into waves. This has been witnessed on Earth, but gravity limits the effects to fractions of a second. In space, scientists believe a Bose-Einstein condensate will be visible for five to 10 seconds. These atoms could "have the potential to unlock many mysteries beyond the frontiers of known physics," a deputy project manager says. "Especially exciting" is the prospect of detecting dark energy, per a release. CAL experiments could also lead to improvements in sensors, quantum computers, and atomic clocks. (Next: an inflatable shield for Mars?)

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