The ISS with the space shuttle Atlantis dock to the right and the Russian Union in the far left corner (2011)
In 2018, a new nuclear refrigerator will be launched for the space station. We are talking about the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL), which is able to cool the substance to one tenth of a billionth part above absolute zero, where all the thermal activity of atoms theoretically stops.
At this temperature, the atoms lose their energy and begin to move in slow motion. At room temperature, the atoms bounce off each other in all directions at a speed of several hundred m / s. In CAL, they slow down a million times and condense into unique states of quantum matter.
CAL is a multi-user facility that supports many researchers looking at a wide range of topics. One of the first experiments will be led by Eric Cornell, a physicist from the University of Colorado. His team will undertake the study of particle collisions and their interaction with each other. Ultra-cold gases can contain molecules with three atoms, but a thousand times larger than a typical molecule. This leads to a low density (“fluffy” molecule ”), which quickly falls apart if it does not remain in an extremely cool state.
In 2001, Cornell received the Nobel Prize in Physics for creating the Bose-Einstein condensates, another state of quantum matter that can be studied inside CAL. Such condensates are droplets of quantum matter that look and behave like waves that exist at ultra-cold temperatures. In free fall, condensates are able to hold their undulating forms for 5-10 seconds (much longer than on Earth), which opens a window to the quantum sphere.
CAL can be used to test the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. One of the main questions in modern physics is: “How do they manage to work together?”. In addition, it is planned to use CAL to test the equivalence principle, which states that gravity and external acceleration cannot be distinguished experimentally. They are going to repeat the experiment of Galileo, who dropped the cannon balls from the Tower of Pisa. Only now use atoms.
Ultra-cold molecules in two atoms can also be used to create instruments for the next generation of accurate gravitational tests with quantum gases.